WASHINGTON - U.S. employers advertised slightly more jobs in January than in December, a sign that hiring should remain steady in coming months.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that employers posted 3.9 million job openings, up 1.5 percent from December. That is still below November's nearly six-year high of 4.1 million, the first month that openings topped 4 million since March 2008.
There are about 2.6 unemployed Americans, on average, for each open job, the report shows. That's close to the ratio of 2 to 1 that is typical of healthier economies. The ratio of unemployed people to available jobs reached a record 6.7 in July 2009, just after the recession ended.
The job market may be emerging from a winter slump. Employers added 175,000 jobs in February, the government said last week. That was much higher than in December and January, when cold weather lowered job growth.
A separate report by Manpower Group, the staffing company, found that U.S. employers are more optimistic about hiring this spring. Nineteen percent of companies surveyed said they planned to add jobs in the April-June quarter, the most since last fall.
"With 92 percent of U.S. employers planning to hire or keep their staff levels steady, I think there is a sense of optimism that demand for goods and services is getting more predictable, and this is allowing employers to feel more comfortable about business growth," Chris Layden, a spokesman for Experis, a division of Manpower, told CBS Radio News.
Last week's employment report showed 175,000 net job gains in February. That's the number of people hired minus those who were laid off, quit or retired.
Tuesday's government report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, provides more details. It shows the overall number of people hired each month, rather than just the net gain. It also includes data on the number of people quitting or being laid off.
Overall hiring slipped 0.9 percent to 4.5 million in January. That hiring total might sound like a lot, but in a healthy job market, roughly 5 million people are hired each month.
The number of people who quit their jobs fell slightly last month, to 2.3 million, the report said, while layoffs ticked up. The rate at which workers voluntarily left their jobs has hardly budged over the last year, a sign that the labor market continues to underperform.
Quits can be a positive sign because people typically quit when they have a new job or are confident they will find one. More quits also open up more positions for job-seekers. As result, a healthier job market usually includes more people quitting and greater overall hiring.
During the economic boom that preceded that the 2008 financial crisis, around 3 million per month quit their jobs, according to Wrightson ICAP. In a client note, the research firm said that bad weather had likely affected the number of job openings and that it expects "some improvement" in the spring.
Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, has said the Fed is monitoring the quits and hiring figures as key indicators of the job market's health.
Openings rose in January in construction, education and health care, and hotels and restaurants. They dropped in manufacturing and retail.