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Job openings hit 7-year high

Employers in May posted the most job openings in seven years, but the number of workers hired fell slightly from April, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Tuesday.

Businesses and governments advertised 4.6 million openings in May, the most since June 2007, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey.

However, the number of hires dipped from 4.8 million to 4.7 million.

Job openings have risen solidly during the recovery, but hiring has not kept pace. Over the past year, openings have jumped about 16 percent, while the number of hires is up about 6 percent.

“On balance, it is a positive outcome because it suggests that employers are looking to hire people,” said Jim Brock, an economics professor at Miami University.

Some economists have attributed the disparity to a mismatch between the skills of unemployed Americans and those required by employers. Others say employers are being particularly selective because of the still-high unemployment rate.

In May, hiring accelerated among construction companies but slowed in the professional and business services, education and health, and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Meanwhile, the number of people quitting jobs rose slightly to 2.5 million. Quitting is typically a sign of a robust labor market in which workers feel confident enough to leave current positions.

Brock said businesses seeking workers with in-demand skills may be looking to lure them away from other employers, which then creates openings at those firms.

An encouraging sign is that there were an average 2.1 unemployed people for every job opening in May. That’s down from a peak of 6.7 in July 2009 and close to the 2-to-1 ratio that reflects a healthy job market.

The narrowing gap suggests “that things seem to be sustainably picking up,” Brock said.

In Ohio, the number of online help-wanted ads rose by 1,800 in June, reversing May’s drop of 5,700 for the state, according to reports by The Conference Board, a New York-based nonprofit research group.

Through the first six months of the year, the number of online advertised vacancies in Ohio grew by 36,011, or 24 percent, while the number of unemployed workers fell by more than 78,000 through the end of May, the Conference Board reported last week.

Locally, the number of online help-wanted ads in the Dayton metro area has grown at an even faster pace — up 28 percent since the beginning of the year to 8,346 last month, while unemployment declined by more that 5,600 workers.

Another economic study released Tuesday found that small-business owners were less optimistic about the economy last month, despite reporting their most ambitious job creation plans since 2007.

The optimism index from the National Federation of Independent Business fell 1.6 points in June to 95, the first drop in four months. Driving the decline was a steep fall-off in the outlook for general business conditions six months months from now.

The net percentage of small-business owners who planned to hire more employees in the next three months rose to 12 percent in June, from 10 percent the previous month. The figure is approaching a normal level and was the best since 2007, according to the NFIB.

The Labor Department said Friday that the economy added 288,000 net new jobs in June and the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent.

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