The nation’s demand for labor only got stronger in December, the Labor Department reported on Wednesday, as job openings rose to 11 million.
That brings the number of posted jobs per available unemployed worker, which had been easing in recent months, back up to 1.9 — not what the Federal Reserve has been hoping for as it seeks to quell inflation.
“It does make you question whether we continue to see that slowing in net job creation,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at the financial services company Nationwide. “There’s still a strong demand for workers, and that suggests that the labor market is still running very tight, and too hot.”
The 5.5 percent increase in job openings was largely driven by hotels and restaurants, which have been steadily recovering from the pandemic, and jumped sharply to 1.74 million positions posted. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, has been particularly focused on wage inflation in the services sector, but like wages more broadly, increases in hourly earnings in private services have been decelerating.
In another sign of confidence among workers, people voluntarily left their jobs at about the same rate as they did in November. Quits as a share of the overall employment base have fallen slightly from 3 percent at the end of 2021, but plateaued over the past few months. Overall, in 2022, about 50 million Americans quit their jobs.
Layoffs were also steady in December, staying at the unusually low level that has prevailed since a spike during the pandemic. While pink slips in the tech industry have mounted swiftly — most recently with 22,000 between Microsoft and Google — the bulk of the separations may have occurred after the labor turnover survey ended.
Other indicators that employers are shedding workers, such as initial claims for unemployment insurance, have also remained very low by historical standards. Those leaving tech jobs, especially with software development and engineering skills, may have found new opportunities so quickly that they didn’t file for unemployment benefits.