Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Economic Jolt: Job Openings and Labor Turnover August 2008

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their latest monthly read of job availability and turnover (JOLT) showing that, on a year-over-year basis, private non-farm job “openings” declined 23.14%, job “hires” declined 12.47%, and “separations” declined 0.60% led by a 10.05% drop in “quits”.

These results are clearly indicating that the slowdown in the employment market has developed substantially over the last six months and now is quickly accelerating down into territory typical of recessionary contraction.

Job “openings” (click chart below for larger version), the reports most leading “demand side” indicator, has now declined on a year-over-year basis for five consecutive months strongly suggesting that the private sector is planning to curtail future hiring activity.

Sliding down that slope of the Beveridge curve, the decline in the job vacancy rate is clearly corresponding with an equal but inverse movement up in the general unemployment rate as can be plainly seen in the following chart (click chart for larger version).

Job “hiring” activity (click chart for larger version) has also been declining significantly with December’s results posting the eighth straight decline on a year-over-year basis further confirming the recent weakness seen in the job market.

Job “separations”, whereby workers and their employers go their separate ways by one means or another (layoffs, retirement, termination, quitting, etc.), are also declining primarily due to the inclusion of “quitting” activity.

It’s important to understand that job “quits” are included as a component of the “separations” data series as “quitting” is a valid means of workers “separating” from employers but their inclusion tends to create an overall procyclical trend in what would otherwise be logically thought of as a countercyclical process (i.e. downturn leads to increase in separations not decrease).

As the economy slides into recession and the employment situation worsens workers tend to reduce quitting activity presumably for fear that they could risk a long bout of unemployment and the latest results (click chart for larger version) confirm this with the sharpest decline on a year-over-year basis seen since August of 2003.