The Labor Department’s monthly Employment Situation report is eagerly devoured by pundits and politicians alike, but its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) tends to receive less attention.
This may change, however. JOLTS figures may attract greater interest in the months ahead because the new Federal Reserve chief, Janet Yellen, has noted the significance of certain JOLTS data. For example, Yellen has cited the hiring rate (that is, the rate at which workers are being added to employer payrolls) and the “quit rate” (the rate at which workers — excluding those who are retiring — are voluntarily leaving jobs) as two important indicators of labor-market health. “A pickup in the quit rate,” she observed in a March 2013 speech, “would signal that workers perceive that their chances to be rehired are good — in other words, that labor demand has strengthened.”
The latest JOLTS figures were released this week, and they show that, in seasonally adjusted terms, both the job-openings rate (2.8 percent) and the hiring rate (3.3 percent) were constant between December and January, while the quit rate ticked down slightly, from 1.8 percent to 1.7 percent. To be sure, January was a month of bitterly cold and stormy weather, and the most recent Employment Situation report suggests that the economy added 175,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in February. But the hiring rate has been stuck at 3.3 percent since October, and the quit rate was the same in January 2014 as it was in January 2013. For that matter, as Bloomberg View’s Matthew Klein points out, the hiring and quit rates are still near — actually, they’re now just below — the respective troughs they reached following the 2001 recession, even though our current economic recovery is more than four and a half years old. (The St. Louis Fed has graphs here and here.)
“Taken together,” explains Ben Walsh of Reuters, “the quit rate and the hire rate represent a good proxy for the level of choice workers, particularly the already employed, have in the job market.”
In that sense, the JOLTS data offer yet another reminder that America’s labor-market recovery still has a long way to go.