All-Time Highs in Job Openings and Quits

The March JOLTS

May 3, 2022 by Tim Hatton

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The month of March set the all-time record for job openings—this morning’s JOLTS report showed 11.5 million positions are open, while quits rose to a new record of 4.5 million.

“Quits increased in March, showing that workers were still able and willing to find better opportunities in this tight labor market,” said Lightcast Chief Economist Bledi Taska. “Employers are still locked in a battle for talent.”

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks hiring, resignations, and layoffs. Taska and Senior Economist Layla O’Kane presented their first takes and initial insight this morning in a LinkedIn Live broadcast. 

The 11.5 million job openings in March represent a slight increase from February and January, both of which showed 11.3 million jobs open, and is also slightly above the previous series high in December 2021. 

The number of quits increased by 150,000 from February to March. The number of quits has been rising steadily since the middle of 2020, but the high number of hires (6.7 million in March) indicates that these workers are quickly being reassimilated into the labor force. The “Great Resignation” is really more of a “Great Reshuffling.” Many of the same people are remaining in the labor force; they’re just moving around between different jobs.

The increase in quits has not led to a rise in unemployment, which the federal government calculated at at 3.6% in March, barely above its record low. 

For every 100 job openings, there are now only 52 unemployed people on the job market. That number has been steadily declining and is now at an all-time low. Put another way, there are 1.9 jobs open for every unemployed worker. That number was 1.2 in February 2020, just before the pandemic—and the job market was considered tight even then.

Specific industries were largely consistent with this overall pattern, though with some notable individual results. Retail Trade saw the largest increase in job openings, and the second-largest relative increase, despite being three months away from peak shopping season. The Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities industry saw a decline of 69,000 job openings.

Despite a reported drop in first quarter GDP and the likelihood the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates, this remains a jobseeker’s market and a tough one for employers. However, the drop in GDP may indicate that the steadily increasing number of job openings has gone as high as it will go. During our broadcast this morning, our economists said that this could be the peak of the hot job market.

Right now, though, the record-setting numbers in today’s JOLTS show we are in the middle of the tightest job market since the report began in 2000. However, weekly jobless claims (a proxy for layoffs) are hovering near their lowest levels since 1968, indicating that this may be the tightest the job market has been in 50 years. 

The tight race for talent means that employers will need to be smarter and use even better data and hiring strategies as they seek out the workers they need. 

On Friday, the BLS will release its monthly Employment Situation report, which will shed more light on this competitive job market. Our economists will be live for that report as well, and you can join us live at 9:00 ET/6:00 PT.