Job Openings and Hiring Are at a 3-Year Ebb

March data showed a cooling labor market, but layoffs remain low. The overall trend is likely to be welcomed by Federal Reserve policymakers.

Two men shake hands next to a table with a yellow tablecloth and leaflets. They are surrounded by other people and corporate signage.
Job hunters met potential employers at a job fair in Miami.Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Ben Casselman

The red-hot labor market cooled somewhat in March, government data showed on Wednesday.

Employers had 8.5 million unfilled job openings on the last day of March, the fewest since early 2021, according to data released by the Labor Department. They also filled the fewest jobs in nearly four years, suggesting that employers’ seemingly insatiable demand for workers might finally be abating.

A slowing labor market would be welcome news for policymakers at the Federal Reserve, who are concluding a two-day meeting on Wednesday amid signs that inflation is proving difficult to stamp out. Fed officials have said they see falling job openings as a sign that supply and demand are coming into better balance.

For workers, however, that rebalancing could mean a loss of the bargaining power that has brought them strong wage gains in recent years. The number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs fell to 3.3 million, the lowest level in more than three years and a far cry from the more than four million a month who were leaving their jobs at the peak of the “great resignation” in 2022.

“This continued moderation is largely positive for the market and the economy overall, and is mostly sustainable for the time being,” Nick Bunker, economic research director for the Indeed Hiring Lab, wrote in a note on Wednesday. But, he added, “if job openings continue to decline for much longer, hiring of unemployed workers will eventually retreat enough to drive unemployment up.”

There is little sign of that so far, however. Despite high-profile job cuts at a few large companies, layoffs remain low overall, and fell in March. And while job openings have fallen, there are still about 1.3 available positions for every unemployed worker. Data released by the Labor Department on Tuesday showed that wage growth picked up in the first three months of the year, suggesting workers retain some leverage.

The data released Wednesday came from the Labor Department’s monthly survey of job openings and labor turnover. Economists will get a more timely snapshot of the labor market on Friday, when the government releases its monthly jobs report.

Forecasters expect that data to show that employers added about 240,000 jobs in April and that the unemployment rate remained below 4 percent for the 27th consecutive month.

Ben Casselman writes about economics with a particular focus on stories involving data. He has covered the economy for nearly 20 years, and his recent work has focused on how trends in labor, politics, technology and demographics have shaped the way we live and work. More about Ben Casselman

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