By Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Job openings are at rock-bottom levels, according to government and private surveys released Tuesday, a trend that could keep the unemployment rate high even as layoffs slow.
Small businesses in particular are reluctant to add workers as they struggle to obtain credit. Many are pushing their current employees to produce more. Economists say small businesses account for about 60% of new jobs.
Still, there are some pockets of hiring as demand for information technology and sales professionals grows, according to government reports and job search Web sites. And there are signs that companies are adding more human resources personnel, which could signal more hiring down the road.
"We've seen a real spike in the hiring of contract recruiters," said Phil Haynes, managing director of AllianceQ, an employers' association that includes companies such as Starbucks Corp., Bank of America Corp. and Intuit Inc. "The recruiters come before the jobs."
But overall, it's a tough time to be out of work. There are about 6.1 unemployed workers, on average, competing for each job opening, a Labor Department report shows. That's down slightly from 6.2 last month, the most since the department began tracking job openings nine years ago.
It's a sharp increase from only 1.7 workers per opening when the recession began in December 2007.
The department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey said employers advertised about 2.5 million job openings at the end of September, up slightly from the previous month. That's down from a peak of 4.8 million openings in June 2007.
Layoffs are slowing a bit. Employers cut a net total of 190,000 jobs in October, the government said last week, much lower than the average of about 700,000 a month in the first quarter of this year. But until companies are willing to hire, the unemployment rate is likely to keep rising from its current level of 10.2%, the highest in 26 years.
The increase in joblessness came even as the economy grew by 3.5% in the July-September quarter, the strongest signal yet that the recession is over.