WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time on record, the number of job openings in the United States exceeds the number of unemployed Americans — a trend that may soon give workers more leverage to demand pay raises.
With employers struggling to fill openings, the number of available jobs in April rose 1 percent to 6.7 million from 6.6 million in March, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That’s the most since records began in December 2000.
The figures underscore the consistent strength of the nation’s job market. The unemployment rate has reached an 18-year low of 3.8 percent. Employers have added jobs for a record 92 straight months. And the abundance of openings suggests that hiring will continue and that the unemployment rate will fall even further. Not since December 1969, when the rate was 3.5 percent, has unemployment been lower than it is now.
Employers appear confident about the economic outlook and growth. Analysts expect faster consumer spending to help accelerate growth to roughly a 3.5 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, after growth had lagged slightly in the first three months of the year.
In July 2009, just as the Great Recession was officially ending, there were, on average, 6.7 unemployed people for each job. Now, that figure has fallen to just 0.95 jobless people per opening.
The sharpest increase in openings in April was in a category called professional and business services, which includes a range of occupations, from accountants, architects and engineers. Increased openings were also especially evident among manufacturers and at hotels and restaurants.
Regionally, the largest increases in available jobs in April were in the Midwest and West. Open jobs in the Northeast and South barely changed.
Yet it’s not clear that employers are trying very hard to fill all their open jobs. Online job boards and software that makes it easier to scan resumes for keywords also make it easier for employers to post openings and initially screen applications, even if they’re not actually prepared to hire.
The surest sign that employers were scrambling for workers would be steady pay gains, as businesses bid higher for the workers they need. Yet wage increases remain sluggish, compared with previous periods when the unemployment rate was this low.
Hourly pay rose 2.8 percent in May on average for all workers, excluding managers, compared with a year earlier. In April 2000, the last time the unemployment rate was as low as it is now, hourly pay jumped nearly 4 percent from the previous year.