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Economic Report: U.S. job openings jump to 7.37 million and top pre-pandemic levels as economy surges

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The numbers: Job openings in the U.S. rose in February to the highest level in more than two years as the economy emerged from a winter torpor tied to a record increase in coronavirus cases.

The number of job openings jumped to 7.37 million from 7.1 million in January, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

The economy began to accelerate early in the new year after a sharp decline in coronavirus cases. Rising vaccinations, relaxed government business restrictions and another massive dose of federal stimulus have all helped to goose the economy, with faster growth expected in the months ahead.

Last Friday, the government said the U.S. gained 916,000 new jobs in March in another clear sign the economy is strengthening.

What happened: About 5.74 million people were hired in February.

Separations — layoffs, firings, retirements and so forth — rose to 5.46 million from 5.32 million in the prior month.

Officially, the government’s more accurate employment report said 468,000 new jobs were created in February. The total reflects the number of hires minus those who lost their jobs.

The job-openings report is released with a one-month lag.

Read: Surging U.S. manufacturers grow faster as key ISM index hits 38-year high

Job openings rose the most in February in health care, hotels, restaurants, theaters, museums and parks and recreation.

They declined the most in public and private education and information services such as media and public relations.

The so-called quits rate was unchanged at 2.6% among private-sector employees and is back to precrisis levels. More people quit when the economy is doing well and they think they can find a better job.

At the height of the coronavirus crisis, the quits rate had fallen to a seven-year low of 1.8% 

Big picture: Job openings now top prepandemic levels and aren’t far from the record high of 7.57 million in November 2018. Many companies are looking to hire more workers in anticipation of the economy strengthening as most of the American populace gets vaccinated.

Read: Inflation is back in Wall Street’s crosshairs as the economy surges again

The U.S. still has a long way to go to recoup the 8.4 million jobs still missing because of the pandemic, but millions of jobs could be created in the next six months if the coronavirus continues to fade.

Read: Consumer confidence surges to a pandemic high

What they are saying? “While the broader labor market is still weak, the single biggest threat to the labor market—coronavirus-induced job loss—is slowly abating,” said Nick Bunker, research director at Indeed Hiring Lab. “If coronavirus cases continue to fall and the pandemic gets under control, the labor market can start to sustainably heal.”

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-0.15%

fell, but the S&P 500
SPX,
+0.11%

rose slightly, in Tuesday trades. Both indexes remain near record highs.

TaxWatch: Most people flunked this pandemic-related tax quiz — can you do better?

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