WASHINGTON — Employers posted more open positions in January compared with December and the number of Americans quitting jumped, trends that could push up wages.
Job openings rose 1.6 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted 5.6 million, the Labor Department said Thursday . While healthy, openings have fallen 1.5 percent year over year.
More than 3.2 million people quit their jobs in January, the most in nearly 16 years. That is a sign of confidence in the job market, since workers typically quit either when they have another job, or do not but are optimistic they can find one.
More quitting also boosts wages, because most people quit for a new job at higher pay. It also indicates that employers may be recruiting workers from other jobs by offering bigger paychecks.
Even as job openings have fallen slightly in the past year, they remain near the highest levels on records dating back to 2001. That could also push average wages higher: If employers are having trouble filling jobs, they may be forced to pay more.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen regularly points to quit levels as a gauge of labor market health.
“There’s job security,” Yellen said in a press conference Wednesday. “We’re seeing more people who are feeling free to quit their jobs, getting outside offers, looking for other opportunities.”
Yellen spoke after the Fed said it was lifting its short-term interest rate for the third time in 15 months.
Total hiring also jumped in January, though that figure remains below pre-recession highs. Employers hired 5.4 million people that month, up 2.6 percent from December.
The government said last week that employers added a net total of 235,000 jobs, after a similarly healthy gain of 238,000 in January. The unemployment rate fell one-tenth to 4.7 percent.
Those figures are net gains after layoffs, quits and retirements are subtracted from overall hiring.
Thursday’s data comes from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS. They are more detailed and provide a fuller view of the job market.