WASHINGTON — U.S. employers advertised slightly more job openings in May, a sign of an increasingly energized economy where companies are expecting continued growth.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that the number of open jobs rose 0.5 percent to 5.36 million in May. April’s total was revised down to 5.33 million from 5.38 million, which had been a 15-year high.
The stronger confidence among employers has yet to fully spill over to workers. Both the number of new hires slipped somewhat in May for the second straight month, while the number of workers who chose to leave their jobs — a sign of strength since quits are generally associated with people finding better jobs — was basically unchanged.
Job gains have been solid since February 2014, yet many Americans are still confronting financial uncertainties because of limited wage growth. On Friday, the government said employers added a robust 223,000 jobs in June. But average hourly wages were flat.
The unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent last month from 5.5 percent. However, the seemingly positive sign actually reflected a negative for the economy: More people became discouraged and gave up searching for work. This caused the government to no longer count these people as jobless and resulted in the unemployment rate declining. In a healthier economy, more people would be entering the job market than exiting it.
The figures reported in last Friday’s jobs report are a net total: Jobs gained minus jobs lost. The data reported Tuesday, in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, are more detailed. They calculate total hires, as well as quits and layoffs. Tuesday’s JOLTS data contain figures for May, and are a month behind last week’s jobs report.
Employers may be posting more job openings, but many have been slow to hire.
Total hiring in May fell to 5 million from 5.03 million in April and 5.09 million in March. The lingering gap between openings and hires is a sign of a mismatch in the jobs market. Employers are unable find workers who possess their desired skills, but those same companies are hesitant to increase salaries to attract more talented applicants.
Average hourly wages were flat between June and May at $24.95. That average has risen just 2 percent over the past 12 months, slightly ahead of core inflation.
An increase in people quitting and hiring can cause wages to grow faster. That’s because people typically quit when they have a new job lined up, usually for higher pay. And when firms move to fill more open jobs, particularly as the unemployment rate declines, they often need to offer more pay to attract workers.
Quits fell in April to 2.70 million, from 2.71 million, though they remain near pre-recession levels. Quits reached a seven-year high in January.