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Job hunting gets tougher still as openings slip in July

WASHINGTON – U.S. employers posted fewer jobs in July than in June, the latest evidence that hiring is weak.

Job openings fell to a seasonally adjusted 3.67 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That’s down from June’s 3.72 million job openings, which was revised lower.

The figures follow Friday’s disappointing employment report, which said the economy added only 96,000 jobs in August. That’s below July’s total of 141,000 and the average 226,000 a month added in the first three months of the year. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, but only because the number of people working or looking for work fell.

The drop in available positions has made job hunting more competitive. Nearly 12.8 million people were unemployed in July, meaning 3.5 people were competing for each open position. While that’s down from a peak of nearly 7 to 1 just after the recession ended in July 2009, in a healthy economy the ratio is usually 2 to 1.

New Mexico was one of 44 states that showed a rise in unemployment in July. New Mexico’s jobless rate rose to 6.6 percent in July, up from 6.5 percent in June.

The state’s rate of over-the-year job growth, comparing July 2012 with July 2011, was negative 0.4 percent, representing a loss of 2,800 jobs, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. It was the second consecutive month of decline following 10 months of year-over-year growth averaging about 0.4 percent.

Across the country, job openings have increased 68 percent from 2.2 million over the past three years. But companies aren’t filling them quickly. Total hiring has increased only 11 percent in that stretch.

There are several reasons companies aren’t hiring faster, economists say. Companies may not be offering sufficient pay to entice workers to take the jobs. Some employers say they can’t find enough skilled workers in certain industries, such as information technology.

Businesses are also worried about Europe’s financial crisis, slowing growth in China and the pending expiration of tax breaks in the United States.

Employers are still posting fewer jobs than before the recession, when they advertised about 4.4 million a month.

Journal staff contributed to this report.