WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers stepped up their search for workers in December despite the looming impact of the omicron wave of coronavirus infections.
The number of posted jobs rose 1.4% to 10.9 million on the last day of December, compared with the previous month, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That is far higher than pre-pandemic levels, though just below the record number of 11.1 million that was reached in July.
The data suggests companies were still desperate to hire workers last month yet had trouble finding enough people to fill their open jobs. A measure of hiring actually fell in December, according to Tuesday's report. There were approximately 1.6 available jobs for every person actively seeking work that month.
Even so, most economists expect that job gains likely took a hit in January, as the omicron wave sickened millions of people, forcing them to stay home and isolate or care for people who were sick. Fewer people likely sought work out of fear of the virus, executives at some staffing agencies said.
Economists are projecting that businesses and other employers added just 165,000 jobs in January, according to data provider FactSet. That would be the fewest since December 2020. Some economists, however, expect that the economy shed jobs in January because so many Americans were likely forced to stay home due to illness, and some were probably counted as unemployed. Still, hiring is likely to bounce back in February as omicron fades and Americans resume traveling and eating out, and more people are able to take jobs.
About 4.3 million people quit their jobs in December, the government's Tuesday report said, down from a record of 4.5 million in November. Still, far more Americans are leaving their jobs than before the pandemic, a positive sign because most people who quit do so for a better-paying job.