Job openings rise, but hiring still weak

Employers remain reluctant to hire workers, bringing ratio of job seekers to job openings to record high.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Millions of job openings!
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Hiring managers from companies of all sizes give us the lowdown on who they're hiring and why.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The recession may be ending, but the job market is still suffering, according to a government report released Tuesday.

15.7 million people are out of work. The nation's unemployment rate rose above 10% for the first time since 1983 in October. And with fewer openings available, prospects for the unemployed are looking grim.

Job seekers now outnumber openings by more than six to one, the greatest discrepancy since the labor department began tracking job openings.

Job openings: There were fewer than 2.5 million job openings in September, down 35% from a year ago, according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The only bright spot, according to Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist for the Economic Outlook Group, is that the number of job openings rose slightly to 2.48 million in September from 2.42 million in August.

The uptick in job openings "could be the first break in the clouds," he said."If the economy continues to show strength, then the new job openings could very well result in an increase in employment later this year and into 2010."

Hiring: For now, employers are still hesitant to add workers. The number of new hires remains near an all-time low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The reality is that firms laid off massive numbers of people over the winter. While there appear to be signs that we've hit bottom, there are not a lot of signs that people are hiring again," said Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. "It's still tough going."

The survey showed that employers across the board hired just over 4 million workers during the month, down slightly from the previous period.

According to the report, most of the hiring in recent months has come from the trade, transportation and utilities industries.

Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a research group based in Washington, credits the uptick in hiring to the cyclical nature of those industries, which also experienced enormous job losses earlier in the year.

Also faring relatively well was the professional and business services sector, which has been aided by a recent increase in the number of temporary workers, according to Shierholz. "Those are the first workers employers will fire during a downturn and the first workers employers will hire (when conditions begin to improve)," she said.

The report also showed that layoffs in September were up 89% from a year earlier and the percentage of workers quitting jobs remained low in September indicating that people are still nervous about changing jobs in the current labor market. To top of page

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