A pair of economic reports this morning paints a mixed picture of an economy that is advancing, but slowly. U.S. employers advertised slightly fewer jobs in August than July, but they filled the most positions in three months, offering a mixed signal for the job market.
U.S. wholesalers, meanwhile, increased their stockpiles in August and their sales rose for the first time in four months, according to a report from the Commerce Department. The gains could provide a boost to the still-weak economy as companies typically boost stockpiles when they expect increased sales. When businesses order more goods, it generally leads to more factory production, which can lead to hiring. But weak global growth continues to reduce exports, which is weighing on companies that sell products overseas.
A stronger job market could help boost domestic growth. When more people find jobs, they spend more, and consumer spending accounts for nearly 70 percent of economic activity.
The Labor Department said job openings dropped by 32,000 to 3.56 million in August. July's openings were also revised lower. In a positive sign, employers hired 4.39 million people in August -- the most since May. The number of available jobs has jumped about 63 percent since the recession officially ended three years ago, but remains well below the more than 4 million jobs a month advertised before the recession.
The job market remains very competitive. With 12.5 million people unemployed in August, there were 3.5 unemployed people, on average, competing for each open job. In a healthy economy, that ratio is 2 to 1.
The job opening figures come after a surprisingly positive jobs report on Friday. That report showed that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent last month from 8.1 percent in August. It was the first time in more than 3 and a half years that the rate had fallen below 8 percent. And it fell because a government survey of households found that 873,000 more people had jobs, the biggest jump since January 2003. Still, the gains were mostly because of an increase in part-time jobs.
Employers added just 114,000 jobs last month, according to a separate survey of businesses. While only a modest increase, the government said hiring was much stronger in July and August. From July through September, employers added an average of 146,000 a month. That's more than double the average monthly job growth during the previous three months.