The number of job openings reached 7.3 million at the end of 2018, the highest level since the Labor Department started measuring them in 2000. That pushed the job opening rate — the number of openings as a share of total employment — back to the high it reached last August.
The reading suggests that the labor market remains very strong, despite nearly universal forecasts that the economy will slow toward the end of the year. That has prompted the Federal Reserve to hold off hiking interest rates for at least the next several months.
Job creation was particularly strong in construction and accommodation and food services, while manufacturing job openings fell.
Another measure released Tuesday, the National Federation of Independent Business’ small business optimism index, fell in January to its lowest level since President Donald Trump’s election — even though business owners still say quickly adding jobs and finding workers are their biggest challenges.
The rate of people quitting their jobs remained flat, arresting a slight downward trend from recent months, indicating that workers still feel confident enough to switch employers or strike out on their own.
Job openings have outpaced hiring since December of 2017, which shows that employers are having a difficult time finding enough workers to fill all the positions they have available. There have been more open jobs than unemployed people since March 2018.
The number of initial claims for unemployment insurance also reached an all-time low in January, though it spiked during the government shutdown and remains elevated.