More Help Wanted as Unemployment Numbers Decline
Government figures show a notable increase in job openings at the end of 2011.
For obvious reasons, growth in job openings almost always corresponds inversely to the direction of unemployment. When joblessness goes down, like it's been doing over the past few months, the number of open positions grows. As if to confirm this, earlier this week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the December figures for its monthly job openings survey. As certain as death and taxes, the number of openings grew in the face of declining unemployment.
3.4 million work positions were open on the last day of the month, a hearty improvement from the 3.1 million in November. That represented a nearly 10% increase month-on-month. The unemployment rate was a comparative laggard, improving just 2% (from 8.7% to 8.5%) over the same period. Although this seems out of balance at first, it's actually quite normal - after all, it usually takes some time to fill a job once it becomes available. Positions open faster than new employees can be signed on to occupy them.
As has been typical of late, private businesses were very much the engine driving the growth. Collectively they added over 250,000 of the approximate 300,000 positions representing the November-December increase. The increasingly indebted and sprawling government sector is understandably more cautious about taking on new workers.
In terms of industry, the biggest job adders were in professional and business services and the education and health services sectors (education and health are, for some reason, lumped into the same category in BLS's methodology). A graying baby boomer population requires more manpower to provide it health care; as a result, over the last few years the sector has been one of the top job creators in America. Trade, transportation and utilities came in third - a healing economy means more trade. It also leads to increased consumer spending, which in turn necessitates a higher volume of goods to be transported from vendor to customer.
Another encouraging figure to make a reader smile was tacked on to the end of the job openings report - the total number of layoffs and discharges. This figure also moved in a positive direction, in other words down. The December figure of 1.64 million was over 70,000 lower than that of the previous month.