Health and Healthcare Systems

US jobseekers have a record 10 million openings to choose from – but why?

people are increasingly quitting their jobs in the U.S.

There are currently more job opportunities in the U.S. than ever before. Image: Unsplash/Markus Winkler

David Elliott
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • America had a record 10.1 million job openings in June.
  • It came as businesses reported struggling to hire enough staff to fill vacancies.
  • A rising quit rate could suggest workers are more confident about future job prospects.

​​Jobseekers might consider more opportunities a good thing. But what happens if employers can’t fill those positions?

It’s a question being asked in the United States as the country battles the disruptions caused by the pandemic.

There were a record 10.1 million job openings in the US in June, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show. This was up from 9.2 million openings the previous month, with the largest increases in professional and business services, retail trade, and accommodation and food services.

At the same time, lay-offs remained at an all-time-low level of 0.9% first recorded in May.

And the number of workers quitting their jobs rose to a lofty 2.7%. In fact, Americans have recently been voluntarily waving goodbye to their employers more than at any other time in the past 20 years.

Hiring and firing

a chart showing that there are many US job openings in sectors like professional services and retail.
There are many US job openings in sectors like professional services and retail. Image: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Eye-catching stats, but what do they mean in the real world? Job openings have surged as the country has reopened sectors shuttered by the pandemic, and the June figures were a whole million higher than economists were expecting.

For many Americans, it’s a stark contrast to early 2020 when millions lost their livelihoods and unemployment rose higher in three months than it did in two years of the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

But the numbers also show a gap between worker supply and employer demand. With 8.7 million Americans unemployed, there are more jobs open than potential people to fill them – and businesses are reporting difficulty finding workers.

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Enhanced incentives

One reported factor is a mismatch between the industries in which people want to work and those that are hiring. And some experts say this trend could in part be due to people being buoyed by the amount of available opportunities, while others are feeling more comfortable about resigning from their jobs.

Businesses are responding by offering incentives including higher wages, sign-on bonuses and flexible work options to attract and retain staff. More than 40% of employers say they are offering enhanced benefits.

Other factors keeping people out of the workforce, including fear of new COVID-19 variants and childcare issues, will also need to be resolved.

The road to recovery

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Looking at the bigger picture, some economists say that a rise in hiring and that record-low lay-off rate are promising signs of a continuing economic recovery in the US.

And while it poses immediate problems for employers, some say a high quit rate could be a sign of a healthy labour market, with people moving towards work more suited to their skills and interests.

But there are still more than 3 million people experiencing long-term unemployment in the US. And, overall, there are 5.7 million fewer jobs, on a seasonally adjusted basis, than there were before COVID-19 arrived in the country.

this chart shows the state of the jobs recovery
Image: US Bureau of Labor Statistics/Statista

Job creation is a priority

Unemployment due to the effects of COVID-19 is being experienced the world over.

The International Labour Organization has forecast that the economic fallout of the pandemic could contribute to the unemployment of more than 200 million people globally next year.

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How has the Forum navigated the global response to COVID-19?

While the world will move past the current health crisis, the UN agency says, five years of progress towards stamping out poverty have also been undone.

A deliberate effort to boost the creation of decent jobs, overcoming vaccine inequity and helping the most vulnerable sectors and members of society recover are priorities, it adds.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsJobs and the Future of Work
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