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News from EPI Ratio of Job Seekers to Job Openings Holds Steady at 2.9-to-1

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that there were 3.9 million job openings for 11.3 million job seekers in September—meaning that for every job opening there were 2.9 people looking for work. While the job seekers ratio has been decreasing from a high of 6.7-to-1 during the Great Recession, today’s ratio of 2.9-to-1 matches the highest the ratio ever got in the early 2000s downturn In a labor market with strong job opportunities, the ratio would be close to 1-to-1, as it was in December 2000.

In her analysis, EPI economist Elise Gould points out that the improvement in the job seekers ratio overstates the improvement in job opportunities. “Most of the decline in the number of job seekers is because more than 5 million would-be workers are sidelined; they are neither employed nor looking for work due to the weak labor market,” writes Gould. “These “missing workers” are thus not counted as unemployed, but many will become job seekers when a robust jobs recovery finally begins, so job openings will be needed for them, too.”

The JOLTS data are also a reminder that the current elevated unemployment rate has little to do with a skills shortage or mismatch, as unemployed workers dramatically outnumber job openings in all industries.

“In no industry does the number of job openings even come close to the number of people looking for work,” writes Gould. “This demonstrates that the main problem in the labor market is a broad-based lack of demand for workers—not, as is often claimed, available workers lacking the skills needed for the sectors with job openings.”

The number of workers who voluntarily quit their job remained low in September, at 2.3 million, as did the total number of hires, at 4.5 million.