Job seekers inquire about positions at the 12th annual Mission Career Fair in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. AP photo.
WASHINGTON — More Americans are quitting their jobs, suggesting many are growing more confident in the job market.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that the number of people who quit their jobs in April jumped 7.2 percent to 2.25 million. That’s just below February’s level, which was the highest in 4 ½ years.
Overall hiring also picked up in April, though not as dramatically. Employers filled 4.4 million jobs in April, a 5 percent increase from March. Hiring fell in March and April’s level was below February’s.
The report offered a reminder that the job market is far from healthy. The number of available jobs slipped fell 3 percent to a seasonally adjusted 3.75 million. Openings had reached a five-year high in February and remain nearly 7 percent higher than a year ago.
Still, the growth in hiring and quits provides more evidence of a dynamic job market that is making slow but steady strides. It follows Friday’s May employment report, which showed the economy added a net 175,000 net jobs last month. That’s roughly in line with the average monthly gain over the past two years.
Most workers quit their jobs when they have a new position or feel confident that they can find one quickly. And when they do, it opens up more opportunities for other Americans, including the unemployed.
Janet Yellen, vice chair of the Federal Reserve, has said the Fed is monitoring data on quits and overall hiring for signs that the job market is improving in a sustainable way.
The Fed says it will continue its ambitious program of bond purchases until employment improves substantially.
The report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, provides the total number of people hired and laid off each month. It’s different from the department’s monthly jobs report, which provides each month’s net job gain or loss and the unemployment rate. By quantifying total hiring and layoffs, the JOLTS report paints a fuller picture of what employers are doing.
For example, for the past two years net job gains have averaged about 180,000 per month. But much that gain reflects a decline in layoffs, rather than more overall hiring.
Layoffs fell to the lowest level on records dating back to 2001 in January. They have since increased slightly but are still below pre-recession levels.
Fed officials and economists want to see overall hiring pick up because it would indicate businesses are confident enough to add more workers.
Despite April’s increases, overall hiring and quits are still below pre-recession figures. Total hiring topped 5 million in most months before the recession began in December 2007. That’s 14 percent higher than April’s level.
Monthly quits were typically around 2.8 million before the recession. That’s 24 percent higher than April.
The job market remains very competitive for those looking for work. There were 3.1 unemployed workers, on average, for each open job in April. In a healthy economy, the ratio is 2 to 1.
The drop in openings suggests that job gains may not pick up from their current modest pace in the coming months.
Openings have risen much faster than total hiring since June 2009, when the recession ended. The number of available jobs has increased 58 percent since then, but total hiring has increased only 22 percent.
That’s a sign companies are slow to fill the jobs they have posted. Many employers have become more selective and cautious about hiring since the recession. Some may not be offering enough pay to attract the candidates they need. Other companies, particularly in information technology and manufacturing, say they can’t find enough qualified workers.