This article was originally written by Doug Short. From 2016-2022, it was improved upon and updated by Jill Mislinski. Starting in January 2023, AP Charts pages will be maintained by Jennifer Nash at Advisor Perspectives/VettaFi.
The latest job openings and labor turnover summary (JOLTS) report, with data through January, is now available. From the press release:
The number of job openings decreased to 10.8 million on the last business day of January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, the number of hires and total separations changed little at 6.4 million and 5.9 million, respectively. Within separations, quits (3.9 million) decreased, while layoffs and discharges (1.7 million) increased.
The JOLTS report is a monthly survey of job openings, hiring, and job separations (quits, layoffs, discharges) released by the BLS. Unlike the unemployment rate that measures the supply side of the labor market, JOLTS data helps gauge labor demand.
The chart below shows the monthly data points of the four components of the JOLTS series. They are quite volatile, hence the inclusion of six-month moving averages to help identify the trends. The moving average for openings was above the hires levels for over five years starting in 2015, as seen in the chart below. The openings MA briefly dipped below the hires for two months (May and June 2020), only to climb above once more in July 2020.
For comparison, here is the monthly BLS Employment Situation Summary charted with JOLTS data:
A population-adjusted perspective on JOLTS
The chart above is based on the actual numbers in the JOLTS report. A better way to view the numbers is as a percent of non-farm employment, which essentially gives us a population-adjusted version of the data. Here is that adjustment for four of the JOLTS series. The vertical axis for each is optimized for the high-low range to facilitate an understanding of the individual trends.
On the last business day of January, the number and rate of job openings decreased to 10.8 million (-410,000) and 6.5 percent, respectively. In January, the largest decreases in job openings were in construction (-240,000), accommodation and food services (-204,000), and finance and insurance (-100,000). The number of job openings increased in transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+94,000) and in nondurable goods manufacturing (+50,000).
In January, the number and rate of hires changed little at 6.4 million and 4.1 percent, respectively. Hires changed little in all industries.
In January, the number of quits decreased to 3.9 million (-207,000), and the rate was little changed at 2.5 percent. Quits decreased in professional and business services (-221,000), educational services (-14,000), and federal government (-5,000).
In January, the number of layoffs and discharges increased to 1.7 million (+241,000). The rate was little changed at 1.1 percent. Layoffs and discharges increased in professional and business services (+190,000) but decreased in federal government (-5,000).
Where are we in the business cycle?
Based on the six-month moving averages, we can see that:
- The openings moving average is above the hires levels.
- Hires are below their all-time high and trending down.
- Quits are below their all-time high and trending down.
- The layoffs and discharges series is below its pre-pandemic levels.
The trend in quits
To reiterate a previous point: Increases in quits suggest employment flexibility. Quits tend to be inversely correlated with layoffs & discharges, which are associated with business cycle weakness. Following the great recession, quits began increasing in 2010, and the rate accelerated in 2013 and continued to rise until the COVID pandemic. As the economy rebounded from the COVID downturn, we saw quits reach an all-time high in November 2021 and again in March 2022 in what has been called "The Great Resignation". Layoffs & discharges fell post great-recession and leveled out for many years. Due to the COVID pandemic, layoffs and discharges saw all-time highs but have now flattened out below pre-pandemic levels.
It would, of course, be excellent if we had historical JOLTS data stretching back through several business cycles. However, the BLS only began tracking this data in December 2000. The time frame is quite limited compared to the main BLS data series in the monthly employment report, many of which go back to 1948, and the enormously popular non-farm employment (PAYEMS) series goes back to 1939. Nevertheless, there are some clear JOLTS correlations with the most recent business cycle trends.
The JOLTS reports is interesting to watch, but the volatility of the data, which is also subject to revisions, encourages caution in taking the data for any given month very seriously.
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