Job-Seekers-to-Job-Openings Ratio Continues its Downward Trend in November
The number of job openings hit 5.0 million in November, according to this morning’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS)—a slight increase from 4.8 million in October. Meanwhile, according to the Census’s Current Population Survey, there were 9.0 million job seekers, which means there were 1.8 times as many job seekers as job openings in November—the lowest since January 2008. A rate of 1-to-1 would mean that there were roughly as many job openings as job seekers. In a stronger economy, the ratio would be smaller, but we are definitely moving in the right direction.
This slight decline in the jobs-seekers-to-job-openings ratio is a continuation of its steady decrease, since its high of 6.8-to-1 in July 2009, as you can see in the figure below. The ratio has fallen by 0.8 over the last year.
At the same time, the 9.0 million unemployed workers understates how many job openings will be needed when a robust jobs recovery finally begins, due to the 5.8 million potential workers (in November) who are currently not in the labor market, but who would be if job opportunities were strong. Many of these “missing workers” will go back to looking for a job when the labor market picks up, so job openings will be needed for them, too.
Furthermore, a job opening when the labor market is weak often does not mean the same thing as a job opening when the labor market is strong. There is a wide range of “recruitment intensity” with which a company can deal with a job opening. If a firm is trying hard to fill an opening, it may increase the compensation package and/or scale back the required qualifications. On the other hand, if it is not trying very hard, it might hike up the required qualifications and/or offer a meager compensation package. Perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows that recruitment intensity is cyclical—it tends to be stronger when the labor market is strong, and weaker when the labor market is weak. This means that when a job opening goes unfilled when the labor market is weak, as it is today, companies may very well be holding out for an overly-qualified candidate at a cheap price.
The job-seekers ratio, December 2000–November 2014
|Month||Unemployed job seekers per job opening|
Note: Shaded areas denote recessions.
Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey and Current Population Survey