U.S. job openings rose to a two-year high in February while hiring picked up as strengthening domestic demand amid increased COVID-19 vaccinations and additional pandemic aid from the government boost companies’ needs for more workers.
The Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS report, on Tuesday was the latest indication that the labor market had turned the corner after shedding jobs in December as the nation buckled under a fresh wave of COVID-19 infections and depleted government relief.
“Labor demand should continue to heat up as companies brace for a post-pandemic burst in pent-up demand,” said Lydia Boussour, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York.
Job openings, a measure of labor demand, increased 268,000 to 7.4 million as of the last day of February. That was the highest level since January 2019 and pushed job openings 5.1% above their pre-pandemic level.
The second straight monthly rise in vacancies lifted the jobs openings rate to a record 4.9% from 4.7% in January.
There were an additional 233,000 job openings in the health care and social assistance industry. Vacancies in the accommodation and food services sector, one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, increased by 104,000 jobs. Arts, entertainment and recreation job openings rose 56,000.
But vacancies decreased in state and local government education as well as educational services and information.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast job openings would rise to 6.995 million in February. The report followed on the heels of news on Friday that the economy added 916,000 jobs in March, the most in seven months.
The labor market is being boosted by an acceleration in the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations and the White House’s recently passed $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, which is sending additional $1,400 checks to qualified households and fresh funding for businesses.
Demand for labor could increase further as more services businesses reopen. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday fully vaccinated people could safely travel at “low risk.”
An Institute for Supply Management survey on Monday showed services businesses reporting they “have recalled everyone put on waivers and made new hires” and had “additional employees added to service the needs of new customers at new locations.”
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