U.S. employers advertised more jobs in May than April, a hopeful sign after three months of weak hiring.
Job openings rose to a seasonally adjusted 3.6 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That’s up from 3.4 million in April. It’s also the second-highest level in nearly four years, just behind March’s 3.7 million.
Still, layoffs also increased, an indication that the job market is still struggling.
A rise in openings could mean hiring will pick up in the coming months. It typically takes one to three months to fill a job.
Even with the increase, the competition for jobs remains fierce. There were 12.7 million unemployed people in May, or an average of 3.5 unemployed people for each open job. In a healthy job market, the ratio is usually around 2 to 1.
And hiring has slowed sharply this spring. Employers added only 80,000 jobs in June, the third straight month of weak hiring.
For the April-June quarter, the economy has added an average of only 75,000 jobs a month. That’s just a third of the 226,000 jobs a month added in the January-March quarter.
The unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent in June. The slowdown has raised concerns that the sluggish economy is weakening further.
Wages for those who have jobs are barely keeping up with inflation. Without more jobs and higher pay, consumers won’t have the income needed to fuel more spending and economic growth.
The slow pace of hiring also suggests businesses aren’t confident enough in the economy to add permanent employees. Nearly a third of the jobs added last month were temporary hires. That is usually seen as a good sign, because it indicates employers need more workers and will soon hire permanently. But many economists now say it suggests that companies are simply reluctant to workers for the long term.
Overall, the economy isn’t growing fast enough to generate much more jobs. The economy expanded at a 1.9 percent annual rate in the first three months of the year, down from a 3 percent pace in the final three months of last year. Growth likely didn’t pick up much in the April-June quarter, economists say.