Malone Telegram

WASHINGTON –– The rapid hiring that made 2014 a stellar year for job gains is showing no sign of slowing down.

Job openings rose 2.9 percent to 4.97 million in November, the most since January 2001. More job vacancies generally lead to more hiring. Employers have been slow to fill their openings for most of the recovery, but that started to change last year as companies ramped up their overall hiring.

Last week’s jobs report showed that employers added 252,000 jobs in December, capping the strongest year for hiring in 15 years.

Hiring, as reported in the JOLTS report, slipped to 4.99 million in November from a nearly seven-year high of 5.1 million in October.

Economists offer several reasons why businesses aren’t filling their vacancies more quickly:

— The unemployed don’t have the right skills for the jobs that are available. This view assumes that there are millions of unemployed construction workers or factory employees, for example, who aren’t able to find work in growing sectors such as health care. There are some highly-skilled jobs in software development or advanced manufacturing that do appear to be hard to fill. But some economists point out that there are more unemployed workers than open jobs in nearly every major industry. If there was a so-called “skills mismatch,” you would expect to see that in only some industries.

There were 1.8 unemployed workers on average for each opening in November, about the same as before the recession. That is down sharply from the peak of 6.7 just after the recession. That suggests that employers could soon be forced to offer higher pay to attract new employees.

“There’s no question that small business owners are feeling better about the economy,” NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said. “If they continue to feel that way 2015 could be a very good year.”

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has cited the levels of quits and hires as key indicators of job market health. She and other Fed officials are monitoring those trends as they consider when to raise short-term interest rates from near-zero levels. Most economists forecast that won’t happen until the middle of this year.

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