Despite Dip, Job Openings Stayed Plentiful in January

New data reinforces the job market’s defiance of the Fed’s efforts to cool it down

Workers sit at desks in an open concept office.

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If you’re looking for a job, forget everything you’ve read about layoffs—there are still plenty of them to be had. 

An uptick in layoffs in January didn’t make much of a dent in the job market, which remains heavily tilted in favor of workers, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Wednesday. While layoffs rose to 1.7 million from 1.4 million in December, there were still 1.9 open jobs for every unemployed worker, down slightly from 2 in December while still well above pre-pandemic times.

Ironically, the plentiful job openings—great news for workers and job seekers—could be seen as troublesome by officials at the Federal Reserve. The scant amount of movement in job openings could encourage the central bank to intensify its anti-inflation interest rate hikes, which are meant to cool economic growth and put a lid on wage increases.

“The decline in job openings does not indicate any meaningful improvement in the balance between labor demand and labor supply from the perspective of the Federal Reserve,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital, in a commentary.

Wednesday’s report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS), offers a more detailed look at the churn of open positions, hirings, firings, and quitting than the widely-watched official jobs report that will be released Friday. Last month, the report showed the overall job market remained incredibly good for workers in January, with unemployment falling to its lowest in more than 50 years.

The number of job openings fell to 10.8 million from 11.2 million and the number of people who quit their jobs decreased to 3.9 million from 4 million, suggesting workers may be less confident in their ability to find new work, economists said. However, the number of hires rose too, going to 6.4 million from 6.3 million in December.

Even after the uptick, the number of layoffs is still low compared to pre-pandemic years: layoffs averaged 1.9 million per month between 2013 and the onset of the pandemic, according to BLS data. Employers are still relatively reluctant to let workers go, even as fears of a recession have grown among business leaders, at least partly because of how much the labor force shrank during the pandemic.

The JOLTS survey did show some stress in white-collar employment, with most of the additional layoffs occurring in the professional and business services sector, which includes accountants, computer programmers, and other knowledge workers. The report covers a time period when tech companies like Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Wayfair, and Microsoft announced job cuts. However, job openings and hiring also rose in that sector.

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  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary."

  2. Federal Reserve Economic Data. "Job Openings: Total Nonfarm/Unemployment Level."

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