U.S. Job Openings, Quits Reach March Records in Tight Labor Market

Job openings and the number of times workers quit reached the highest levels on record in March, as a shortage of available workers continued to pressure the US labor market.

The Labor Department on Tuesday reported a seasonally adjusted 11.5 million job openings in March, an increase from 11.3 million the previous month. The number of times workers quit their jobs rose to 4.5 million in the same month, slightly higher than the previous record in November of last year. Meanwhile, hiring cooled slightly from the month before to 6.7 million hires in March.

Separate private-sector estimates showed that demand for labor remained red-hot through April. Jobs site ZipRecruiter said employers had about 11 million job openings last month.

Consumer-facing industries such as accommodation and food services, along with arts and entertainment, had the highest rate of job openings in March, according to the Labor Department. Job openings in the healthcare industry were also near record highs.

According to a ZipRecruiter analysis of Labor Department data, job postings at larger employers—those with more than 5,000 workers—have more than doubled since February 2020. Manufacturing, retail, education and professional services have seen the largest increases. Openings reached their highest levels on record in the South.

The March job openings total was higher than the previous record of 11.4 million in December, according to the Labor Department.

“There is little sign of cooling in the greatest job seekers’ market of all time,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist of ZipRecruiter. “As businesses continue to face high turnover, and the gap between demand for labor and supply widens yet further, businesses will continue to experience upward pressure on wages.”

The number of job openings continues to exceed the number of unemployed people seeking work. In March, there were nearly two job openings for every unemployed person, according to the Labor Department. Openings have outpaced the level of unemployed people seeking jobs since last spring.

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Employers have had difficulty hiring from the limited pool of available workers, and millions of people are expected to remain on the sidelines indefinitely. That has also pushed up wages.

Bryan Simmons is a behavioral psychologist who started his own therapeutic services business in October 2020, treating patients with developmental disabilities such as autism.

Mr. Simmons said he has offered wages “much higher than the industry standard” to successfully compete for therapists.

“I remember I asked one of my current workers in particular how much money they would need to make to be happy and stay,” Mr. Simmons said. “Then they gave me a number and I said ‘Done.’”

Many people in the labor market also are finding them have gained leveragemaking it easier to switch jobs.

Jeff Batuhan quit his job as an executive at an advertising-technology company in December and took a role working remotely for Tinuiti, a marketing company based in New York City. The 45-year-old said he was drawn to the culture and flexibility of his current workplace.

“I had a baby during the pandemic, and I started to really evaluate what’s best for me and my family. The workplace flexibility and the company’s values ​​really played a role for me personally,” Mr. Batuhan said.

Switching to a completely remote job allowed Mr. Batuhan and his family to relocate in March from New York City to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they have more living space, he said.

The tight labor market has helped spur record compensation gains for workers, keeping pressure on inflation. Employees who switch jobs often win double-digit pay raises.

Average hourly earnings for workers in the private sector were 5.6% higher than the year before in March, rising significantly faster than the roughly 3% rate recorded the year before the pandemic began, according to the Labor Department.

“If the job market were to slow down significantly, then we might not see the same level of wage growth and benefits expansion,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at jobs site Glassdoor.

Write to Bryan Mena at

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