US job openings stay steady at nearly 8.9 million in January, a sign labor market remains strong

A technician installs solar panels on a roof of a home in Arlington Heights, Ill., Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. On Wednesday, March 6, 2024, the Labor Department reports on job openings and labor turnover for January. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

A technician installs solar panels on a roof of a home in Arlington Heights, Ill., Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. On Wednesday, March 6, 2024, the Labor Department reports on job openings and labor turnover for January. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. job openings barely changed in January but remained elevated, suggesting that the American job market remains healthy.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that U.S. employers posted 8.86 million job vacancies in January, down slightly from 8.89 million in December and about in line with economists’ expectations.

Layoffs fell modestly, but so did the number of Americans quitting their jobs — a sign of confidence they can find higher pay or better working conditions elsewhere.

Job openings have declined since peaking at a record 12 million in March 2022 as the economy roared back from COVID-19 lockdowns. But they remain at historically high levels: Before 2021, monthly openings had never topped 8 million.

The U.S. economy has proven surprisingly resilient despite sharply higher interest rates. To combat resurgent inflation, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate 11 times between March 2022 and July 2023, bringing it to the highest level in more than two decades.

Higher borrowing costs have helped bring inflation down. Consumer prices rose 3.1% in January from a year earlier, down from a year-over-year peak of 9.1% in June 2022 but still above the Fed’s 2% target.

The job market has remained durable throughout.

Employers have added a robust average of 244,000 jobs a month over the past year, including 333,000 in December and 353,000 in January.

The Labor Department’s February jobs numbers, out Friday, are expected to show that employers added another 200,000 jobs last month, according to a survey of forecasters by data firm FactSet. The unemployment rate likely stayed at 3.7%, which would mark the 25th straight month it’s come in below 4% — longest such streak since the 1960s.

The job market is cooling from the red-hot days of 2022 and 2023 in a mostly painless way — through fewer openings. Despite a wave of high-profile layoffs, the number of job cuts across the economy remains relatively low. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits — a proxy for layoffs — remains at extraordinarily low.

“For many, job security remains high,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab. ”But the temperature of the labor market is not rising: if anything, it’s dropping.”

AP Business

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