A Record Number of Jobs are Open Right Now. Here’s What That Actually Means

Job openings
Supporters hold up signs during a rally in Jefferson City, Mo., May 23, 2017. Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

Looking for a job?

You’re definitely not alone. As of the end of May, more than 6.8 million people in the U.S. were looking for work.

But there may be good news: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in April there were more than six million job openings across the country — the most since economists began tracking the statistic in 2000.

That means we’re inching closer and closer to reaching a one-to-one ratio for job seekers and openings. (We hit about 0.85 in April.)

Hashtag winning, right?

The Number of Job Openings Isn’t as Important as You Think

Not so fast, according to Economic Policy Institute Senior Economist Elise Gould.

“Job openings are definitely important and that they’ve increased is obviously a good thing, but it can also be due to the fact that the population has grown,” Gould said.

The real important statistic is the number of hires — a little over five million — which actually fell by more than 200,000 from March to April. The number was relatively flat compared to April of last year.

You have all those jobs out there, but companies just aren’t hiring enough people to fill all of the open positions. Why?

Economists at the Bureau point to the business and professional sector, which had the most job openings in April with about 1.1 million, as an example of an industry struggling to find qualified candidates.

But it could also have to do with pay.

“There seems to be an unwillingness to offer higher wages,” Gould says. “You’d see that hire rate pick up if firms were offering higher wages.”

In another jobs report this week (do these guys ever sleep?), the BLS reported that for the months of October, November and December in 2016, weekly wages in the U.S. declined 1.5% compared with the same quarter in 2015. Labor economists struggled this week to explain it.

Here’s How to Navigate the Current Labor Market

Still, many people feel comfortable with the job market — so comfortable that they’ll leave their current jobs to scoop up a new gig. In fact, nearly twice the number of people quit their jobs than were laid off in April.

But don’t hand in your resignation just yet — at least not without trying to make things better in your current job.

If you are one of the six million-plus unemployed Americans, here are some of the industries with the most job openings right now:

  • Professional and business services
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Leisure and hospitality

Gould says the healthcare sector is always solid because as our population continues to grow — and age — these jobs will always increase as well.

But she offers another piece of advice for job seekers: cross industries and traditional gender lines. For example, a man who has traditionally worked in finance may find it easier to find a job in the healthcare industry as a nurse.

“Research has shown that when people go to do job searches at their state unemployment office, workers of one gender would be suggested for jobs that traditionally tracked to their gender,” Gould said. If gender isn’t considered, it opens up the job search.

The Job Market Isn’t All Doom and Gloom

That all sounded kind of negative, right?

Sure, the latest unemployment report may have been disappointing, and the new job openings survey wasn’t quite as exciting as it may have seemed at first glance. But the economy is still growing.

And in a bit of good news for first-time job seekers from the U.S. Federal Reserve, the May 31 edition of the Beige Book (a review of economic conditions) reported employers were increasingly finding it hard to fill low-skill and entry-level jobs.

In true economist fashion, Gould sums up the current labor market without too much emotion: “We’re not treading water, and we’re definitely not sliding backward.”

So get out there and stay on that job hunt grind.

Alex Mahadevan is a Data Journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He considers himself a happy reformed economist.

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