Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS)

What Is the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS)?

The job openings and labor turnover survey (JOLTS) is a monthly report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor counting job vacancies and separations, including the number of workers voluntarily quitting employment.

The BLS surveys more than 20,000 businesses and government offices to estimate the numbers of U.S. job vacancies, hires, and separations included in the monthly jobs report. The job separations numbers are subdivided into three categories: quits, or voluntary resignations; layoffs and discharges; and other separations, which include deaths and retirements.

The number of vacancies is a widely followed indicator of labor demand, while the quits rate is partly a function of employment demand. Job hires and separations can be used to gauge labor turnover.

JOLTS supplements the BLS monthly jobs report, which estimates the number of U.S. payrolls and the unemployment rate. JOLTS data is released nearly a month after the monthly jobs report for the same reference period.

Key Takeaways

  • JOLTS is a monthly survey of U.S. job vacancies, hiring, and job separations released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • The vacancies data gauges labor demand, while the number of quits, or voluntary separations, and their rate help to measure labor force turnover.
  • A job vacancy is considered to be a position that is available, could start within 30 days, and which the employer is actively trying to fill from outside the organization. Vacancies include part-time and temporary openings
  • JOLTS numbers for job openings and voluntary separations from employment reached all-time highs in March 2022 amid an elevated quits rate tabbed "The Great Resignation."

Understanding JOLTS

JOLTS data is published monthly in seasonally adjusted as well as unadjusted form, subdivided by region, industry, and size of the workforce.

To produce JOLTS, the BLS surveys a representative sample of 20,700 nonfarm business and government employers from a total of more than 9.4 million. Respondents answer questions about their businesses' total employment, job openings, hires, and separations.

Job openings include all vacancies, including those for part-time or temporary employment, at the end of the reference month meeting the following criteria:

  1. The position exists, and there is work available in that role.
  2. The job could start within 30 days.
  3. The employer is actively recruiting outside candidates for the job opening.

JOLTS employment estimates are benchmarked, or ratio adjusted, monthly to the current employment estimates of the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey used to produce the monthly jobs report, and the JOLTS-to-CES employment ratio is then used to adjust other JOLTS data. JOLTS data are also revised in line with CES on an annual basis. It takes about a year for a new business to show up in the government database used to select the survey sample for JOLTS.

The BLS began collecting JOLTS data in 1999 and publishing survey results in 2002.

JOLTS and the Great Resignation

The Great Resignation describes the rise in the quits rate tracking voluntary separations from employment other than for retirement starting in 2021, as the U.S. economy and job market rebounded from the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After plummeting to a low of 1.6% in April 2020, the quits rate rebounded to 2.4% by December, in line with where it stood 11 months earlier before than pandemic struck. The quits rate kept rising, reaching a series record 3% in November 2021, and matching that level the next month as well as in March 2022.

In absolute terms, the number of workers quitting jobs for reasons other than retirement reached a series high of 4.5 million in March 2022, representing an increase of 152,000 from February. Job openings of 11.55 million at the end of March were also the highest on record, representing 7.1% of the sum of filled and unfilled jobs.

Some economists have argued the entirety of the Great Resignation could be explained by the strong job market amid the recovery from the COVID-19 downturn. Strong labor markets enable more workers to quit their job for a better one, or perhaps to start a business without worrying too much about how hard it might be to find another job if things don't go as hoped.

While nonfarm employment as of March 2022 amounted to 99% of its level in February 2020, the labor force participation rate has recovered more slowly, advancing from 61.4% as of January 2021 to 62.4% by March 2022. still well short of 63.4% in February 2020. The tight supply of available labor has increased competition for labor among employers, fueling the quits rate.

Other explanations for the Great Resignation have ranged from the deterioration in working conditions during the pandemic to a mass reassessment of personal priorities in its wake. Whatever the underlying causes, so long as the job market remains tight JOLTS data will remain closely scrutinized as a gauge of labor demand and turnover.

Article Sources
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  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover – March 2022," pp. 5-6.

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey: Overview."

  3. National Center for Education Statistics. "Evaluating Estimates of Labor Demand and Turnover."

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Schedule of Releases for the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey."

  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover – March 2022," Page 6.

  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover Report Form."

  7. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey FAQs - Data Definitions."

  8. National Center for Education Statistics. "Evaluating Estimates of Labor Demand and Turnover," Page 1.

  9. FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Nonfarm Quits Rate."

  10. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover – March 2022," Page 11.

  11. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Job Openings and Labor Turnover – March 2022," Page 8.

  12. Peterson Institute for International Economics. "US Workers Are Quitting Jobs at Historic Rates, and Many Unemployed Are Not Coming Back Despite Record Job Openings."

  13. FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Total Nonfarm Payrolls."

  14. FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "Labor Force Participation Rate."

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