Hires, quits and layoffs show mixed progress

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012 

Since The Great Recession officially ended in July 2009, indicators of economic recovery have come in fits and starts. Such is the case of today’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The survey reports the number of hires, jobs openings, quits, layoffs and other employment separations in a given month. Today’s release, counting these items on the last day of April, show declines across the board from March but marked progress from the depths of the recession.

The number of job openings fell from 3.7 million in March to 3.4 million in April. This number is still 56 percent higher than the lowest point in July 2009. Layoffs increased slightly but by less than two-tenths of a percent. The number of voluntary quits, a sign that people are more willing to leave their jobs expecting to obtain another, dropped by even less. “I don’t think this represents a reversal. I think we’re on a generally improving trajectory,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

Not just unemployment

The Labor Department's JOLTS survey has provided a month-by-month picture of the labor market over the past decade. A healthy labor market sees not only healthy hiring but also quits, as people are more confident that they will be able to find other employment. The economic downturn brought quits lower than layoffs for the first time since the survey began.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Graphic by Madeline Beard, Investigative Reporting Workshop

For all the progress, Shierholz is concerned about the how far we have to go to reach pre-recession levels. Despite 4.2 million hires in April, 13 percent higher than the lowest point of June 2009, hires averaged 5.2 million in 2007.

Voluntary quits, standing at 2.1 million in April, are still well-below the December 2007 figure of 2.9 million. “I am worried about the larger context where the improvement is slow and levels are low and people are unable to find jobs,” said Shierholz. Professional and business services contributed the most to hiring in April.

Construction and manufacturing have seen the greatest increase in hiring since the depths of the recession but mostly because there were so many jobs lost in these categories.

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


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Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.