Job openings soar, but Americans have not gone back to work

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Published Thursday, September 9, 2021
by Casey Harper | The Center Square

(The Center Square) - Job openings continued to rise in July, even as unemployment rates remained elevated, federal jobs data released Wednesday show.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which showed 10.9 million open jobs for the month of July, much higher than the 8.7 million unemployed for the same month.

"On the last business day of July, the number and rate of job openings increased to series highs of 10.9 million (+749,000) and 6.9 percent, respectively," BLS said. "Job openings increased in several industries, with the largest increases in health care and social assistance (+294,000); finance and insurance (+116,000); and accommodation and food services (+115,000). The number of job openings increased in the Northeast, South, and West regions."

Retail trade and goods manufacturing saw a hiring decrease of 277,000 and 41,000 respectively.

"The number of hires increased in state and local government education (+33,000) and in federal government (+21,000)," BLS said. Hires and total separations were little changed at 6.7 million and 5.8 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was unchanged at 2.7 percent while the layoffs and discharges rate was little changed at 1.0 percent."

Meanwhile, the federal jobs report for the month of August found unemployment remains elevated at 5.2% with 8.4 million unemployed, still well above pre-pandemic levels.

"The unemployment rate declined by 0.2 percentage point to 5.2 percent in August," BLS said. "The number of unemployed persons edged down to 8.4 million, following a large decrease in July. Both measures are down considerably from their highs at the end of the February-April 2020 recession. However, they remain above their levels prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (3.5 percent and 5.7 million, respectively, in February 2020)."

The widespread job openings despite heightened unemployment have been a talking point for Republicans who have opposed extending $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits, which expired over the weekend.

Republican governors and lawmakers have pointed to those payments, enacted to offset the hardship of joblessness during COVID, as a key factor keeping Americans from returning to work now that the economy has left the days of pandemic shutdowns.

A Morning Consult survey from July reported 1.8 million Americans have turned down job offers, saying they prefer to receive government unemployment payments.

Now that those payments are ending, some experts predict unemployment will drop. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, responded to concerns about the ending benefits by urging unemployed Americans to reenter the workforce.

"There are millions of vacancies, and small businesses across the nation are desperate for workers," he said.

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