Job vacancies remained high in December despite Omicron surge

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has disrupted business and kept millions of people out of work. But in December, at least, he did little to calm the hot labor market.

Employers posted 10.9 million open jobs in last month of 2021, Labor Department says said tuesday. This was up slightly from November and close to the record 11.1 million openings in July. There were around 1.7 job vacancies for every unemployed person in December, the most in two decades the government has tracked.

Forecasters had expected the jump in coronavirus cases to lead to a pullback in recruitment, and a slowdown is still possible. Nationwide, coronavirus cases didn’t peak until mid-January, and they continue to rise in some parts of the country. Job postings on the Indeed career site, which tends to track government data closely, remained high for much of December but fell in January.

The virus kept millions of workers at home in December and January, leaving many businesses short-staffed and forcing some to close or limit their hours. This likely forced some companies to postpone hiring. Employers also might have had a harder time hiring because some people were unwilling to seek or start new jobs as virus cases increased, or unable to do so due to on-call obligations. of children.

But there’s little evidence so far that Omicron has derailed a strong job market. Employers laid off or laid off just 1.2 million workers in December, the lowest number on record. The tough hiring environment may have led some companies that normally let go of temporary workers after the holidays to keep them on this year, said Diane Swonk, chief economist at accounting firm Grant Thornton.

“Companies have kept their seasonal hires,” she said. “First, because there is already a labor shortage. And second, because they had so many sick people that they wanted to keep people.

Many workers take advantage of their influence by seeking better jobs. More than 4.3 million workers left their jobs voluntarily, down slightly from November but still close to a record high.

With scarce workers and employees in charge, companies are increasing wages. Wages and salaries increased by 4.5% in the last three months of 2021, according to separate data released by the Department of Labor last week. Wages are rising fastest in sectors where labor is particularly scarce, such as leisure and hospitality.

Economists will get a more up-to-date look at the labor market on Friday, when the Labor Department releases data on job growth and unemployment in January. Forecasters polled by FactSet expect the report to show employers added 165,000 jobs. But Omicron has created unusual uncertainty, and some economists believe the report could show a net loss of jobs last month.

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