Economic Snapshot: Job openings at highest level since 2001

The employment report was very solid this month as unemployment continues to decrease, but we will have to keep an eye on wage growth, which is not improving at the same rate as unemployment.

Still, we continue to get closer and closer to full employment and that, along with job openings at their highest level in 14 years, is cause for celebration.


There were 5.0 million job openings on the last business day of January, little changed from 4.9 million in December, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job openings rate for January was 3.4 percent.

This is the highest level of job openings since January 2001 and the number of job openings is up 28 percent year-over-year.

Hires decreased to 5.0 million in January and the hires rate was 3.5 percent. Over the 12 months ending in January, the number of hires increased for total nonfarm and total private, and was little changed for government.

Separations were little changed at 4.8 million in January and the separations rate was 3.4 percent. Within separations, there were 2.8 million quits at a rate of 2.0 percent.

The number of quits increased over the 12 months ending in January for total nonfarm and total private, and was little changed for government. The number of quits increased in all four regions over the past year and is up 17 percent from 2014.

Small business optimism

The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index rose 0.1 points to 98.0 in February. This marks the third highest reading of the index since 2007, behind slightly higher readings in November and December 2014.

The largest gain was in the percent of owners reporting hard-to-fill job openings, which increased three points. Those who are planning to increase inventories also rose this month, now up two points. Movement in all other components of the index was small this month.

Fifty-three percent reported hiring or trying to hire this month, up five points, but 47 percent reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill.

Twenty-nine percent of all owners reported job openings that could not fill during the current period, which is up three points and at its highest reading since April 2006. Fourteen percent of owners reported the availability of qualified labor as their top business problem, the highest level for this index since September 2007.

Employment situation

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 295,000 in February and the unemployment rate decreased to 5.5 percent.

The number of unemployed persons edged down to 8.7 million in February. Over the past 12 months, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 1.2 percentage points and 1.7 million, respectively.

The number of long-term unemployed persons was little changed at 2.7 million this month and these individuals accounted for 31.1 percent of the unemployed. Over the past year, the number of long-term unemployed persons is down by 1.1 million.

The number of persons employed part-time for economic reasons was little changed at 6.6 million in February.

Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 3.0 cents to $24.78 in February. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.0 percent.

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