U.S. job openings slipped in January, as did the job openings rate, government data showed on Friday.

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, fell 161,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.76 million for the month, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. December job openings were downwardly revised to 2.92 million.

The job openings number in January was 361,000 openings higher than the level a year earlier, but it was still well below the 4.4 million openings at the start of the recession in December 2007, the Labor Department said.

In January, the job openings rate -- a gauge of how many jobs were still open at the end of the month -- fell to 2.1 percent from 2.2 percent in December.

The rate of new hires also slipped in January, to 2.8 percent from an upwardly revised 3.0 percent in December. The construction hires rate showed the biggest decline, from 6.5 percent in December to 4.5 percent in January.

The separations rate -- or job turnover, including voluntary and involuntary separations -- fell slightly to 2.7 percent in January from 2.9 percent, the Labor Department said.

The report showed 3.71 million people hired in January, down from 3.91 million in December and well below the 5 million monthly hires at the start of the recession.

The rate of people who quit their jobs in January, which often is seen as a measure of workers' willingness or ability to change jobs, fell to 1.4 percent for private employees but was little changed for nonfarm workers, at 1.3 percent, and government employees, at 0.5 percent, the report said.

Although still low, the number of quits was higher than in January 2010 for nonfarm and private employees, the Labor Department said.

The layoffs and discharges rate was essentially unchanged in January for total nonfarm and total private payrolls, but the number of layoffs by nonfarm employers reached a series low of 1.5 million during the month, the report said.

(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Andrea Ricci)