U.S. job openings, hiring rise slightly in May

WASHINGTON — U.S. employers advertised slightly more jobs in May and hired more workers, further signs of steady improvement in the job market.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings rose 28,000 to 3.83 million in May from April. That’s close to February’s 3.9 million, which was the highest in five years.

A measure of overall hiring increased 46,000 to 4.4 million. That’s still lower than a year ago.

The job market remains competitive, despite stronger hiring this year. There are nearly 3.1 unemployed, on average, for each open job. That’s down from a peak four years ago of nearly 7 to 1. In a healthy economy, the ratio is typically 2 to 1.

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey comes after the government said last week that employers added 195,000 net jobs in June. Last week’s report showed all jobs added, minus the number of people who were laid off, quit or retired. The unemployment rate was unchanged at still-high 7.6 percent.

In May, nearly all the openings were at retail businesses, a sign that many of the jobs being created are low paying. Openings in retail rose nearly 80,000. Government and construction firms also posted more jobs: Each advertised 4,000 new positions.

Most other industries cut openings, including manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and health care.

Still, the number of people who quit their jobs ticked up about 20,000 to 2.2 million. That’s often a sign that people are feeling better about the job market. Most people quit their jobs when they have another job or when they are confident enough in the job market that they can find one quickly.

The job market has improved this year, even after sharp tax increases kicked in Jan. 1 and government spending cuts took effect March 1. Employers have added an average of 202,000 net jobs a month in the first half of this year. That’s up from an average of 180,000 in the previous six.

Job growth is being fueled in part by consumer spending and the housing recovery. Consumer confidence is at a 5½ year high and is helping drive up sales of homes and cars.

Auto sales from January through June topped 7.8 million, their best first half since 2007, according to Autodata Corp. and Ward’s AutoInfoBank. Sales of previously occupied homes exceeded 5 million in May, the first time that’s happened since November 2009. New-home sales rose at their fastest pace in five years.

A stronger economy makes it more likely that the Federal Reserve could begin to taper its stimulus later this year. Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month that the Fed would slow its bond purchases later this year and end them next year if the economy continues to improve.

Bernanke and Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen have both said that they monitor the job openings report for signs that the job market is improving in a sustainable way.

The Fed will release minutes from its June meeting Wednesday. The report should provide further insight into what Bernanke and other policymakers are thinking.

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