U.S. job openings at their highest level in over a decade

Coffee buying in Seattle, Wash., October 22, 2013. (Tish Wells/McClatchy)
Coffee buying in Seattle, Wash., October 22, 2013. (Tish Wells/McClatchy) McClatchy

Job openings in June reached the highest number in 13 years, while hiring showed levels not seen since early 2008, according to a Bureau of Labor Statics report released Tuesday.

The report came about a month after another BLS report showed that unemployment dipped to 6.1 percent in June – the best rate since September 2008 – suggesting that the American economy is distancing itself from the great recession.

“The economy is definitely starting to gain some steam,” said Jordan Levine, the director of economic research at Beacon Economics, a California consulting firm.

There were 4.67 million job openings in June, up more than 750,000 over June 2013. The last time there were that many openings was in April 2001, although the months in 2007 and 2006 were consistently close to this year’s high.

Hiring also increased from a year ago. Over 4.8 million people were hired in June, compared with about 4.4 million at the same time last year. These are the best hiring figures since February 2008, when the great recession was in its early stages and Lehman Brothers, the financing giant, was still operating.

“It really is a growth spread across most sectors, including some of the higher wage, higher skill sector – like the professional, scientific, technical – to the kind of lower skilled, lower waged jobs in things like retail and trade,” Levine said.

Most sectors have hired and offered more jobs in June from a year ago, the report shows. However, the construction industry still lags. In June 2013 there were about 131,000 jobs openings in construction. This June the number dropped to 127,000. Hiring follows a similar trend

“A year ago today we probably had 40 employees,” said Wesley Splawn, the vice president of LPC Construction, in Yuma, Ariz., said in a phone interview. “Now we only have about 10.”

Since the market crash of 2008, his company has had to reorganize, he said, and it went from having construction crews to doing mostly project management. Yet Splawn said they now “are seeing a turnaround, a little bit, as far as construction goes.”

Tenant improvements and road work have picked up, he said, noting that new construction has improved just faintly in Yuma, the county with the highest unemployment in the nation.

“The big picture I see in this report is that the labor market is recovering really slowly,” said Robert Blecker, a professor of economics at American University in Washington. He noted that “the overall numbers are still just creeping along” and the government isn’t doing much hiring.

“We ought to be hiring more people in the public sector,” said Blecker, who thinks that heavy government budget cuts have taken a toll on economic growth.

Levine, meanwhile, thinks that to finally move on from the greatest recession of this generation, construction needs to pick up. However, the country’s trade deficit needs to improve, as well, he said.

“The global economy hasn’t rebounded as strongly as we’ve seen in the U.S., and that means our exports haven’t grown as much as what we’d like to see,” he said.