U.S. job openings tumbled more than expected in February to an 11-month low, according to the Labor Department, with declines reported in lodging and food services, real estate and transportation.
Total openings declined to 7.09 million from 7.63 million in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a report on Tuesday. Economists had expected the figure to drop just slightly to 7.57 million.
The report, which arrives with a greater lag time than some other economic reports and can vary widely from month to month, offers a glimpse of just how dramatically businesses slowed hiring in the wake of December's stock-market swoon and the 35-day federal-government shutdown, the longest in American history.
The Labor Department previously had reported that U.S. businesses hired just 33,000 additional workers in February, the fewest since September 2017.
Last week, the department said that jobs growth rebounded to 196,000 in March, assuaging some of investors' worst fears that the economy might be slowing faster than expected.
But the number of openings in February still exceeded the 6.48 million unemployed people looking for work as of March, offering a signal of how tight the labor market remains.
The U.S. unemployment rate is currently 3.8%, close to the lowest in a half-century, and economists say hourly wages are creeping up -- typically a precursor of higher inflation, since businesses often try to recoup the added labor cost by raising prices for end products and services.
Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West, a unit of the French lender BNP Paribas, wrote in a note to clients that the job openings likely rose in March -- in tandem with the rebound in hiring.