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Job openings near record high, with 11 million vacancies

Amazon's consumer chief says hiring remains a "challenge"
Amazon's consumer chief says hiring remains a "challenge" 06:11

Employers around the U.S. are seeking to fill a near-record high 11 million job openings, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The vacancies show businesses continue to struggle to attract workers due to issues ranging from ongoing concerns about COVID-19 to the wave of retiring baby boomers. 

The number of unfilled jobs through the end of October is up from 10.4 million in the prior month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a statement. It represents the highest number of openings since July, when businesses were looking to fill a record 11.1 million slots.

The ranks of Americans who are quitting their jobs also remained near record highs, although that has eased slightly, the Labor Department said. About 4.2 million people quit in October, down from a record 4.4 million in the prior month

Job vacancies rose as employers sought to beef up hiring for seasonal work, with retailers, restaurants, warehouses and other companies seeking additional help during the key holiday season. But many companies are struggling to attract applicants, pushing them to boost wages and dangle signing bonuses, with lower-wage workers like restaurant employees experiencing some of the biggest pay gains. 

"Although the quits rate came down, we're near record high job openings — that says employers are still having trouble attracting workers to their jobs," said Luke Pardue, economist at Gusto, which offers payroll and other services to small businesses. "Employers aren't able to replace the workers that are quitting to reduce the number of jobs openings."

Pardue expects both the quits rate and level of jobs openings to remain high, with Gusto's data showing that 3.4% of workers quit their jobs in November, compared with 2.7% in same period a year ago.

The so-called quits rate remains elevated as Americans pursue better-paying opportunities, strike out on their own or hand in their resignations as the pandemic lingers. Also dubbed "The Great Resignation," the shift is prompting a discussion about burnout and work priorities, with women quitting the workforce at higher rates than men

Women are still quitting at a faster rate than men, Pardue said, citing Gusto's data. In November, about 3.7% of women quit their jobs, compared to 3.1% of men, it found. COVID-19 cases remain high in much of the nation, while some schools continue to grapple with outbreaks and staff shortages, prompting some to cancel classes or switch to online schooling.

"Two of three caregivers in this economy are women," Pardue noted. "Any uncertainty in a family's childcare will be placed on women disproportionately, and means they may have to take a step back to care for their families."

The imbalance in the labor market has taken some economists by surprise, given that many expected workers would flood into the job market after enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits ended in early September. So far, however, workers aren't returning in force. 

Record numbers of Americans quitting their jobs 02:59

"So how did we get here? There are really three broad reasons: demographics, pandemic and policy effects on labor supply, and a surge in aggregate demand," said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, who had expected about 10.6 million job openings, in a report earlier this week.

Boomers continue to retire in large numbers, with Kelly noting that nearly 3 million Americans over age 65 have left the workforce since the pandemic erupted in 2020.

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