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More open jobs in U.S.; quits rise to 9-year high

WASHINGTON -- U.S. companies advertised more available jobs in December and more Americans quit, trends that could lift wages in the coming months.

"The labor market remained sturdy at the end of 2015," Gus Faucher, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services, wrote in emailed research. "The economy should reach full employment, with most people who want to find a job able to do so, around the middle of 2016."

The Labor Department says the number of job openings jumped 4.9 percent to 5.6 million, the most since July. And quits increased 6.9 percent to nearly 3.1 million, the highest in more than nine years, and "a sign of increasing confidence in the job market, Faucher noted.

People typically quit for better-paying positions, so more quits are a sign that overall pay levels could increase. Employers have also struggled to fill many open jobs, which could push them to offer higher pay to attract workers.

The data comes after the government said last week that hiring had slowed sharply in January. Yet wages grew at a solid pace, and the unemployment rate fell to an eight-year low of 4.9 percent.

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