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There were 4.6 million more job openings than unemployed workers in December

A woman walks past a “Now Hiring” sign in front of a store on January 13, 2022 in Arlington, Virginia.
Olivier Douliery | AFP | Getty Images

Job openings totaled nearly 11 million in December while the Great Resignation cooled off, according to Labor Department data Tuesday.

Reflecting a tightening labor market, vacancies rose to 10.92 million, well above the FactSet estimate for 10.28 million and an increase of 1.4% from November. The rate of job openings as a share of the labor force was unchanged at 6.8%.

The quits level, which had soared to record highs in recent months amid a confluence of factors, moved lower to 4.34 million, a decrease of 3.6%. The quits rate fell to 2.9%, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point.

The JOLTS report is considered a particularly important gauge when measuring labor market slack.

December’s numbers further pointed to how close the economy is to full employment. There were 4.6 million more vacancies than workers considered unemployed for the month.

January, however, is expected to be a tricky month for job measure as the omicron variant sent millions of workers to the sidelines.

“Today’s report suggests that the latest wave of the pandemic brought on by the omicron variant didn’t fully hit the labor market in December,” said Nick Bunker, director of research for Indeed Hiring Lab. “Demand for workers, as measured by job openings, remained robust and layoffs hit a new all time low. But while the data suggest no major impact in December, the outlook for January is less optimistic.”

In other economic news Tuesday, the ISM Manufacturing survey for January came in at 57.6%, a decline of 1.2 percentage points from December but slightly ahead of the 57.4% Dow Jones estimate. The number represents the share of businesses reporting expansion for the month.

Federal Reserve officials are watching the latest data closely as they prepare to embark on their first tightening cycle since 2018.

Policymakers say they feel the economy is close to fulfilling the Fed’s dual mandate of full employment, and has exceeded the 2% inflation benchmark for the central bank.

Indeed, the ISM index reflected inflation pressures in the pipeline, as the Prices Index hit 76.1%, up 7.9 percentage points from December.

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