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Milestone for U.S. job market: More openings than unemployed

Garrett Thornton, left, Bradley Harper, Heather Wood and

Garrett Thornton, left, Bradley Harper, Heather Wood and Marcus Brown fill out job applications at the Governor's Job Fair in the Tommy E. Dulaney Center in Meridian, Miss., on Feb. 8. Photo Credit: AP / The Meridian Star / Paula Merritt

The labor market has hit a tipping point that should help boost wages: There are more job openings in the United States than unemployed workers to fill them.

It’s the first time that’s happened since the government began tracking job openings in 2000.

Job openings hit a record of 6.7 million in April, the Labor Department reported Tuesday. That was an increase from an upwardly revised 6.63 million in March.

The revised data show that job openings outstripped total unemployed workers in March and the trend continued in April.

There were 6.59 million unemployed workers in March and even fewer, 6.35 million, in April, according to the Labor Department’s monthly report on job openings and labor turnover, also known as JOLTS.

“This labor market is a headhunter’s dream, as no company can hire the skilled or unskilled workers they need without an employment agency working for them 24/7 scouring the country for anyone they can find,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

“And they aren’t finding much. Looking under every rock. Leaving no stone unturned,” he wrote in a research report.

The biggest increases in job openings in April were in manufacturing of long-lasting durable goods, such as airplanes and machinery, as well as the information sector.

Early in the recovery from the Great Recession in 2009, there were more than six unemployed workers for every job opening. That ratio has been narrowing ever since. In April there was just 0.95 unemployed worker for every opening.

The Labor Department classifies people as unemployed if they do not have a job, are available to work and have actively looked for a job in the previous four weeks.

The total U.S. labor force of employed and unemployed workers was 161.5 million in April. But there were about 96 million adults over the age of 16 who were not in the labor force.

Many of those are retirees or students. But some could be lured back into the workforce as job prospects and wages rise.

Rupkey said the labor market is getting so tight that wages should begin rising faster as employers need to compete to lure and retain workers.

“Wages may be just months away from heading into the stratosphere where they start producing wage-push inflation the country hasn’t seen since the ‘60s and ‘70s, he said.

When workers are confident they can find another job, they quit their current ones more frequently. The so-called quits rate — workers leaving their jobs as a percentage of total employment — held steady in April at 2.3 percent. That’s the highest level since 2005.

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