Job openings in U.S. fall to nearly 2-year low of 9.6 million

Job openings in U.S. fall to nearly 2-year low of 9.6 million

Quits total less than 4 million for third month in a row

The numbers: Job openings in the U.S. fell to a nearly two-year low of 9.6 million in March in a sign that a still-strong labor market is gradually cooling off.

That’s the fewest openings since April 2021. Job listings declined from a revised 10 million in February, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

The number of job openings is seen as a cue to the health of the labor market. Job postings have tapered off from a record high last spring in response to a cooler economy and talk of recession, but they are still quite high.

The number of people quitting jobs, meanwhile, fell slightly to 3.9 million. Quits have tallied fewer than 4 million for three months in a row for the first time since 2021.

The Federal Reserve wants to see job openings and hiring slow even further to ease the upward pressure on inflation.

Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had forecast job listings to total 9.6 million in March.

Big picture: The labor market appears to be gradually cooling off, but companies are still hiring and competition for workers is stiff.

The Fed plans to raise interest rates at least one more time, likely on Wednesday, as part of series of increases since last year to try to get inflation under control. Higher borrowing costs reduce inflation by slowing the economy and curbing demand for labor.

Mindful of going too far, the Fed plans to wait and see how much the economy and labor market cools before deciding whether to raise rates again later in the year.

Higher rates could also spark a recession and push unemployment sharply higher. The Fed itself predicts unemployment will climb to 4.5% this year from the current 3.6% rate.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 declined in Tuesday trades. Bond yields also fell.

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