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October 6, 2020 11:00 AM, EDT

US Job Openings Fell in August for First Time in Four Months

A pedestrian walks past a "Now Hiring" sign in front of a store in Arlington, Va., in May.A pedestrian walks past a "Now Hiring" sign in front of a store in Arlington, Va., in May. (Olivier Douliery/Getty Images via Bloomberg News)

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U.S. job openings declined in August for the first time in four months, pointing to a moderation in pace of hiring as the pandemic drags on.

The number of available positions slipped to 6.49 million during the month from an upwardly revised 6.7 million in July, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, released Oct. 6. A Bloomberg survey of economists called for a decrease to 6.5 million. Openings that involve workers recalled from layoffs or positions that are only offered internally are not counted in the figure.

The number of hires increased while total separations declined.

The decrease in job vacancies points to some tempering in the rate of hiring. Many businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program funding are nearing the end of the 24-week spending period, and the passage of additional federal aid remains unclear, which could increase business uncertainty in the coming months and hold back hiring.

Competition among those looking for work remains elevated with a little more than 13.6 million Americans jobless in August, leaving more than two unemployed workers vying for every job opening. That stands in stark contrast to a two-year trend in which job vacancies exceeded the number of unemployed.

The decrease in job openings was driven by fewer vacancies in the construction, retail and health care industries. Vacancies increased in manufacturing, food service and government.

The number of hires, which includes rehired employees, improved slightly to 5.92 million, keeping the hires rate at 4.2%.

Separations, which include layoffs and quits, dipped to 4.59 million in August, reflecting decreases in the number of job cuts as well as people voluntarily leaving their jobs. The number of quits declined to 2.79 million from 2.93 million a month earlier. The quits rate decreased to 2%, while the rate of layoffs and discharges dropped to 1% in August from 1.3%.

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