U.S. job openings fell 1.7% in August and hires edged down, bolstering views that the labor market may lose momentum as economic uncertainty and a manufacturing recession squeeze employers.
The Labor Department says employers advertised 7.1 million available jobs in August, down from 7.2 million available jobs in July. Job openings reached a peak of 7.6 million last November but have fallen by about 500,000 since then. This is the third straight month that job openings have dropped, slumping to the lowest level since March 2018. The quits rate, which indicates worker confidence in finding a new job, fell back to its summer rate of 2.3%.
Economists have viewed the sustained drop in job openings as a sign that that employers are beginning to pull back on hiring.
"Today's numbers give credence to the argument that the labor market slowdown is driven by employer demand," said Nick Bunker, an economist at jobs site Indeed.com.
Job openings declined especially in the manufacturing and information sectors, which in turn may have affected regional levels. In the Midwest, job openings plunged 10.8%.
Still, some signs suggest the labor market remains strong. There are 1.2 job openings for every unemployed person, suggesting that many businesses still remain hungry for workers.
The job market has been a critical buffer against an economic downturn, as it gave Americans the confidence to spend freely. A yearlong trade war with China has hit manufacturing and weakened business investment, but consumer spending has so far propelled the economy forward.
The government said employers added 136,000 jobs in September as the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, a half-century low.