Job openings hit a record high as layoffs fall to record low

U.S. employers posted a record-high number of open jobs for the second straight month, showing the rebounding economy is still generating intense demand for workers.

The number of available jobs as of May 30 edged up to 9.21 million, from 9.19 million in April, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That is the highest since records began in December 2000. The previously reported figure for April of 9.3 million was revised lower.

The rate of workers quitting their jobs slipped in May from a record high in April but remains elevated, with 3.6 million workers leaving their jobs in May. Meanwhile, the percentage of workers getting laid off or fired hit a record low of 0.9%.

The figures point to a tight job market, with employers forced to pay more to attract workers yet still struggling to fill open jobs. And many workers are leaving jobs for better-paying positions at other companies.

“This report isn’t quite the barn burner of last month, but the data do suggest that demand for workers is still very strong. Job openings are still near historic highs, the rate of quitting is still above pre-pandemic levels and employers are laying off workers at record lows,” said Nick Bunker, research director at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “The outlook for hiring remains bright.”

While the number of open jobs, at 9.2 million, nearly matches the number of unemployed workers in May, at 9.3 million, some sectors are seeing much tighter worker supply, including educational and health services, professional and business services and  leisure and hospitality.

While hiring picked up in June, with 850,000 jobs added, there are still 6.8 million fewer people with jobs in the economy than there were prior to the pandemic. The unemployment rate ticked up to a still elevated 5.9%, partly because more people started looking for work.

It’s unusual for businesses to report such trouble hiring with the unemployment rate so high. But the lingering effects of COVID-19 are keeping many potential workers on the sidelines. Some of those out of work are worried about the risk of getting the disease from large crowds, while many older Americans have retired early. 

An extra $300 in weekly unemployment aid also has allowed some Americans to seek higher-paying jobs rather than settle for low-paid work, although more than half of U.S. states are moving to curtail those benefits. Economists expect these trends to reverse as more workers start looking for jobs in the second half of the year.

“In coming months as schools reopen, virus fear recedes, and supplemental benefits expire, buoyant labor demand should be matched by increasingly stronger labor supply as individuals gradually re-enter the workforce,” Lydia Boussour, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said in a note.

But for now, workers are still in the driver’s seat.

“For workers considering their next move, now is still an opportune time to find a new job or ask for a raise,” noted Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao. “It’s unclear how long the market will remain tight, so workers may want to lock in gains now while the ball is in their court.”

CBS News’ Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.