Layoffs may be slowing, but companies aren't hiring

U.S. companies may be laying off workers at a slower pace, but that doesn't mean more businesses are hiring.

There were 2.7 million jobs available nationwide on the business last day of March, according to a government report released Tuesday, down from 3 million in February and 4.1 million a year ago. It's also the lowest number in the eight years the Labor Department has tracked job openings.

Other recent reports indicate that while layoffs may be slowing compared with the waves announced earlier this year, hiring hasn't picked up much since the department gathered the job openings data in March.

Without hiring, the unemployment rate will continue to rise. That's because many people who were discouraged and stopped looking for work at the depths of a recession customarily return to the labor market once a recovery begins. If jobs aren't available, those new job seekers are added to the total of unemployed workers.

The Society for Human Resource Management said Friday its monthly survey found slightly more manufacturers plan to cut jobs in May than add workers.

While about one-third of service sector companies plan to hire this month, the survey found, that's still below last May, when about half planned to hire. Another 15% plan to cut jobs. The figures are based on a survey of about 1,000 companies.

The Conference Board said Monday that its Employment Trends Index dipped 0.7% in April, a smaller decline than in recent months but still a sign of labor market weakness.

Gad Levanon, senior economist for the Conference Board, said the job market has improved from earlier this year, but he doesn't expect job openings to increase for several more months.

Employers are continuing to eliminate thousands of positions in an effort to cut costs. The economy lost a net total of 539,000 jobs in April, the Labor Department said Friday.

While elevated, that figure was the lowest in six months and below an average of 700,000 job cuts per month in the first quarter. All told, employers have eliminated 5.7 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.

The unemployment rate reached 8.9% in April, and many economists expect it to reach 10% by next year.