December fewer job openings, US

There were fewer job openings in the US in December 2013, according to figures published today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the Department of Labor.

December also saw a slowdown in hiring, signaling a weakening in the job market.

However, the number of job vacancies in December was at a 5.5-year record.

Total job openings fell 1% to 3.99 million, compared to 4.03 million in November, when the available job numbers exceeded 4 million for the first time since March 2008.

Total hiring declined

Total hiring also fell in December, to 4.4 million from 4.5 million the month before. The number of job vacancies is now back to its pre-recession levels, but monthly hiring is still below the 5 million the country was used to before the financial crisis.

January job gains slowed down, as it had done in December, according to data released last week. There is concern that the US economy may have run out of steam, after two quarters of strong growth. Before December and January, an average of 194,000 people with jobs were added to the total each month. In December, the figure dropped to 75,000 and rose slightly in January to 113,000.

Bad weather to blame, but only partly

The majority of economists say the unusually cold weather was partly to blame for the job market slowdown.

Bloomberg News quoted Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities, LLC, Stamford, Connecticut, who said “I’m skeptical of the ramp-up that everyone is expecting this year. There doesn’t appear to be any acceleration in employment growth.”

A fall in job openings is a sign that employers are waiting for demand to pick up before taking on more staff, which indicates that December’s slowdown is due to other factors and not just the bad weather.

The US is not the only country with reluctant employers who are waiting for consumer demand to grow. A survey by the Confederation of British Industry this month reported that businesses have been reluctant to invest because of demand uncertainty.

In a hearing before the House of Representative Today, the Federal Reserve Chairman, Janet Yellen, said that although employment has fallen in the United States, the job market recovery is far from complete. In order to achieve maximum sustainable employment, Yellen stressed that unemployment needs to fall much further.