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Getting a job just got a little easier

By Jessica Dickler, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With 14.8 million people out of work, competition for new jobs is easing ever so slightly, according to a government report released Tuesday.

There are now about 5.9 job seekers, on average, competing for each job opening, according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's down from 6.4 the previous month -- the greatest differential since the Labor Department began tracking job openings in December 2000.

It's the first time the ratio of job seekers to jobs dipped below six to one since June of last year. While that's a step in the right direction, it's still a far cry from pre-recession levels.

When the recession began in December 2007 there were only 1.7 workers per opening.

Job openings: There were 2.5 million job openings in December, up slightly from 2.4 million in November but still down from 3.2 million a year earlier, according to the report.

The job openings rate, an indicator that compares the nation's job openings to the number of jobs and openings overall, was unchanged at 1.9%.

The best places to find work could be in hotels, casinos, hospitals or schools. Compared to other industries, the number of job openings as a percentage of total employment was greatest in the leisure and hospitality and education and health services industries, the report showed.

Hiring: Employers are still cautious about hiring workers, holding the pace of hiring near its low since the Labor Department began tracking hiring 10 years ago.

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

Hiring has been strongest in the construction, leisure and hospitality sectors in recent months, which have seen hiring rates of 6.1% and 5.2% respectively, according to the report. By comparison, the government hiring rate was only 1.2% in December.

Still, construction, leisure and hospitality were particularly hard hit during the recession resulting in enormous job losses last year, while government jobs have largely held steady.

Separations: The number of total separations, or turnover, was down slightly in December from the previous month.

The report showed that layoffs in December were up from the month before, but still below the same period a year ago, while the percentage of workers quitting jobs decreased slightly, indicating that people are still nervous about changing jobs in the current market.

The Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey is based on data from December. More recently, the Labor Department's January jobs report indicated that employers cut an additional 20,000 jobs last month but the unemployment rate improved to 9.7%. To top of page

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