Job openings climb again to 10.9m as US companies struggle to fill vacancies

Many workers not returning to job market because of Covid concerns and child and elderly care issues

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 08 September 2021 17:44

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The number of job openings in the US has climbed again with the total exceeding the number of unemployed by more than 2 million according to the Department of Labor.

In July the number of openings rose to 10.9 million from 10.18 million in June. An estimate by FactSet had projected the figure would fall slightly to 9.9 million.

The corresponding unemployment figure for July was 8.7 million out of work and looking for jobs.

Released on Wednesday by the department, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known as Jolts, runs a month behind the payroll report, which reported job growth of 1.05 million in July, but then recorded a slump to just 235,000 new jobs in August.

Measured against the total US workforce, this represents a vacancy rate of job openings of 6.9 per cent, up from 6.5 per cent.

By sector, the leisure and hospitality sector — so badly hit by the pandemic and still struggling to recover — saw 134,000 new job openings in July bringing the total to 1.82 million or a rate of 10.9 per cent.

Other sectors that saw big increases in job vacancies include the financial activities sector and government, which now have respective vacancy rates of 5.8 per cent and 4.6 per cent adding 200,000 and 100,000 new positions.

The largest increase by the number of available positions was in health and social assistance, which increased by 294,000 vacancies to a rate of 8.2 per cent.

Companies are struggling to hire workers for a number of reasons. Some are looking for better positions than they had prior to the pandemic; others are struggling with childcare or elderly care arrangements; some still fear Covid-19 infections as the Delta variant sweeps the nation. In other cases, people have opted to retire early or return to education or other training.

The federal unemployment benefit of $300 per week which expired on Labor Day is also said to be a contributing factor, though states that opted to end it earlier saw relatively small changes in workforce participation, hinting that other factors were more important.

Employers are therefore being forced to offer more generous terms of employment, including more flexible working hours, better benefits, incentives to take positions including retirement plans and paid tuition, and more remote working where applicable.

It has even seen many companies offer much better pay as market economics would dictate. Many salaries in sectors known for notoriously low pay are now approaching $15 per hour — the level at which many progressives want the federal minimum wage set.

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