Demand for workers remained near record highs, with 11.4 million job openings in April, as the tight labor market continues to be a bright spot for the U.S. economy.
Some 4.4 million Americans quit or changed jobs that month, according to a report released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, using their leverage in an economy where job openings still outnumber job seekers by close to 2 to 1.
Employers reported hiring 6.6 million people in April. Layoffs, meanwhile, fell to an all-time low of 1.2 million, as businesses sought to keep the workers they did have.
“The labor market remains strong even though things are cooling off a bit,” said Nick Bunker, an economist at the jobs site Indeed. “We’re still very much in a worker’s and job seeker’s market.”
The latest figures come as the U.S. job market notches month after month of solid growth. U.S. employers added 428,000 jobs in April — the 12th consecutive month of at least 400,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate is at a pandemic low of 3.6 percent.
U.S. unemployment rate remains at pandemic low of 3.6 percent
In all, the labor market has added more than 6.5 million jobs in the past year and is on pace to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer. The May jobs report, being released Friday, is widely expected to reflect continued strength in the labor market, though the pace of growth may be moderating from recent highs.
That brisk growth has given the Federal Reserve confidence that it can raise interest rates to fight inflation without causing a recession.
“The labor market is still looking strong, which validates the Federal Reserve’s sense that there’s enough momentum to slow things down without tanking it entirely,” said Erica Groshen, an economist at Cornell University and a former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “This is a period of very high churn, but it’s by and large driven by workers who are quitting to switch jobs, not to leave the labor market entirely.”
As a result, employees continue to have “unprecedented” job security, according to Julia Pollak, chief economist for ZipRecruiter. Overall layoffs are down 37 percent from pre-pandemic norms.
“In this tight labor market, employers are proving reluctant to terminate employees, even when employees — or the businesses themselves — are underperforming,” she wrote in an email. “Employers know that replacing workers now will be more time-consuming and costly than usual.”
It’s been more than two years since Teresa Depola has let anyone go “even if they deserve it.” Her bigger concern, she said, is finding enough workers to keep her diner running in Albany, N.Y.
“I’ve been doing this 10 years and have never had such a hard time finding people to work,” said Depola, who’s down to two employees from four at Betty Boops Diner despite raising wages by $2 to $10 an hour. “I’m thankful I still have a diner, I’m thankful I’m still open, but boy, has it been hard.”
On the other side of the equation, the burst of job openings is empowering millions of workers to leave dissatisfying jobs.
Abigail Josephine worked as a veterinary technician at an animal hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., for less than a month before quitting in April. The tight labor market, combined with a stressful work environment, made the decision relatively easy, she said. The 20-year-old applied for several other positions but finally put in her notice even without another offer.
“At first, I was unsure about quitting,” Josephine said. “But I came home crying, and my husband told me that no job was worth my mental health like that.”