US Job Openings Ticked Up Before Virus Slammed Economy

A “now hiring” sign is displayed on the front door of a Staples store in Manchester, N.H., last year. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

(CN) – In a report that doesn’t reflect the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy, the government said Tuesday that the number of open jobs rose to 7 million in January.

The Labor Department report shows 411,000 more job openings were posted by American employers compared to December, a sign that the labor market was relatively strong before the virus known as COVID-19 began to dominate everyday life.

Open jobs have outpaced the number of unemployed Americans for nearly two years. With 5.8 million unemployed Americans, there are about 1.2 million more available positions than jobless people, at least as of January.

Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab, said he expects the job openings report “will look quite different in the coming months.”

“We can take some solace that, as of January, job openings outnumber unemployed workers for 23 straight months. We can also be glad that employers were hiring at a robust level. But that was then and this is now,” he wrote.

Bunker added that he will be keeping an eye on layoffs in the coming weeks and months.

“Economic data always lags economic reality. We just have to realize that the numbers are going to lag reality significantly for some time to come,” he said.

There were 5.8 million new hires in January, about the same as the month before. The number of people quitting their jobs also held steady at 3.5 million. While worker departures can be a headache for employers, economists see them as a positive sign because most people who quit do so for higher-paying positions.

The record high of 7.63 million job openings was set in November 2018.

The coronavirus pandemic has crushed the U.S. economy, particularly the stock market. This week started off on a bad note, overtaking last week’s record as the worst drop since 1987’s Black Monday. The Dow dropped 13% to 20,188 points Monday, with similar drops by the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

Markets opened to modest gains Tuesday, but they are likely short-lived as investors take one step forward for every three steps back.

A Johns Hopkins University tracker shows there are more than 4,600 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., as the death toll climbed to 85 by Tuesday morning.

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