WASHINGTON (AP) - Job openings dipped in November, the latest evidence that employers remain cautious about adding new workers.
Employers advertised 3.25 million jobs that month, a drop of about 80,000 from October, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Openings had reached a two-year high in October.
The report shows that there were 4.6 unemployed workers, on average, competing for each available job. That's slightly worse than the previous month's 4.5 ratio.
Heavy competition for jobs is a luxury for employers, especially in a year when they are expected to ramp up hiring. It gives them their pick of applicants and allows them to hold down wages. And there is some evidence that companies are taking their time to fill the jobs they advertise. The number of job openings has increased much faster than actual hiring.
Openings have increased by 900,000, or 39 percent, since the recession ended in June 2009. But monthly hiring has risen only 9 percent to 4.2 million, in the same period.
"It is disappointing that 17 months into the recovery, the hires rate still remained at depressed levels," said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse.
Economists don't agree on the reasons for the gap. Some argue that it reflects a "skills mismatch," where the unemployed don't have the right skills for the available jobs. Others cite the housing slump, which makes it harder for those out of work to sell their homes and move to locations where more jobs are available.
Job openings remain far below the 4.4 million that were advertised in December 2007, when the recession began.
The ratio reached 6.3 in November 2009, the highest since the department began tracking job openings in December 2000. In a healthy economy, the ratio would fall to between 1.5 and 2, economists say.
The department's report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, counts the number of jobs advertised on the last business day of the month. While the figures are for November, economists say the report provides an early indication of hiring patterns because it can take up to three months to fill many jobs.
The figures come after the department issued a disappointing employment report Friday stating that employers added only 103,000 jobs in December. Some economists had forecast that twice that number would be added. The unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent, though about half that drop was due to people giving up on job searches.
Several companies have said recently they plan to hire more workers. Ford Motor Co. said Monday that it will add more than 7,000 workers in the next two years, including 750 engineers to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.
And discount-store operator Dollar General Corp. said last week that it will open 625 stores and hire more than 6,000 workers in 2011.
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