By Jill Mislinski
The latest JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary), with data through March, is now available. From the press release:
The number of job openings rose to 7.5 million on the last business day of March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.7 million and 5.4 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was little changed at 1.1 percent. This release includes estimates of the number and rate of job openings, hires, and separations for the nonfarm sector by industry and by four geographic regions.
The first chart below shows four of the headline components of the overall series, which the BLS began tracking 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 Nonfarm Employment (PAYEMS) series goes back to 1939. Nevertheless, there are some clear JOLTS correlations with the most recent business cycle trends.
The chart below shows the monthly data points for four of the JOLTS series. They are quite volatile, hence the inclusion of six-month moving averages to help identify the trends. For the three and a half years, the moving average for openings has been above the hires levels as seen in the chart below.
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 Nonfarm Employment, which essentially gives us a population-adjusted version of the data. Here is that adjustment for four of the JOLTS series. Note that the vertical axis for each is optimized for the high-low range to facilitate an understanding of the individual trends.
Where Are We Now in the Business Cycle?
Based on the six-month moving averages, we can see that:
- Openings are slightly below their record high, and the moving average has been above the hires levels for the last three-plus years.
- Hires are still above their pre-recession peak.
- Quits are above their levels of last two recessions and near the all-time high.
- The Layoffs and Discharges series is near its all-time low.
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 last recession, Quits began increasing in 2010, and the rate accelerated in 2013 and has continued to rise. Layoffs & Discharges fell post-recession and leveled out for a few years and have continued the decline.
It would, of course, be excellent if we had historical JOLTS data stretching back through several business cycles. But alas, we do not.
The JOLTS reports will be interesting to watch in the months ahead. But the volatility of the data, which is also subject to revisions, encourages caution in taking the data for any given month very seriously.
Editor's Note: The summary bullets for this article were chosen by Seeking Alpha editors.