U.S. hirings touched their highest level in 15 months in March, while job openings also rose, according to a government report on Tuesday that confirmed a recovery in the labor market was gaining traction.
Hirings rose to 4.24 million from 4.01 million in February, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. March hiring was the highest since the 4.3 million seen in January 2009, the department said.
Job openings increased to 2.69 million in March from 2.65 million the prior month. The survey lags many job market gauges but can provide insight into labor market dynamics.
The increase in hiring corroborates evidence from payroll and household employment survey data that March was a turning point for the labor market, and we expect further improvement in coming months, said Nicholas Tenev, an economist at Barclays Capital in New York.
The job market, seen as the missing piece in the recovery, is healing after taking a severe beating during the recession. U.S. employers added jobs for a fourth straight month in April, Labor Department nonfarm payrolls data showed on Friday.
The hires rate increased to 3.3 percent in March from 3.1 percent in February, the department said in Tuesday's report. The job openings rate, a gauge of demand for labor, was unchanged at 2 percent. Job openings have, however, trended higher from a 2.3 million low in July 2009.
However, with 15 million people out of work in March, there were 5.6 workers for every job opening, unchanged from February's ratio.
The ratio remains a significant improvement over the high of 6.2 job seekers per job opening last November. However, it is still far above where it needs to be to put this country's unemployed workers back to work, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
As workers continue entering or reentering the labor force in search of work, the ratio will remain elevated, and the unemployed workers of this country will continue to have a very difficult time finding work.
The quits rate, a barometer of how easy it is for workers to change jobs, was unchanged at 3.1 percent.
Separately, data from workforce management company Kronos Inc showed hiring at the 68 retailers it tracks increased 20.45 percent to a seasonally adjusted 58,067 in April. Applications increased 20.32 percent to 1.4 million last month, the report also showed.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by James Dalgleish)