America’s Hiring Freeze

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The number of job openings has increased significantly since the recession ended, but companies aren’t filling them:

There were 4.5 million jobs available in the U.S. at the end of April, the most since August 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Tuesday. Job postings are up 16.5 percent over the past year and have more than doubled since their 2009 low. Actual hiring, however, is a different story. Hires were essentially flat in April and are up less than 6 percent over the past year. This has been a persistent pattern in the recovery, as the above chart shows. …

The most likely explanation remains the simplest: the weak recovery. Companies are seeing more demand for their products, so they’re posting job openings, but that demand isn’t yet strong enough for them to fill those positions quickly. They’re content to wait for the perfect candidate to show up. (In economics jargon, companies’ “recruiting intensity” remains low, as it has been throughout the recovery.) The good news for the unemployed is that more openings means more chances to land a job. There were 2.2 jobseekers for every available position in April, the best ratio since before the recession began. But those openings don’t mean much if companies won’t fill them.

Danielle Kurtzleben looks over the possible reasons for this divergence:

That could mean that there’s a skills mismatch, [Gad Levanon, director of macroeconomic research at the Conference Board] says. That is, it could mean that employers can’t find people qualified enough for the openings they’re posting. But it could also mean that employers are, for whatever reason, deciding to take their time in hiring. One theory here, as Catherine Rampell wrote in the Times last year, is that employers are still feeling cautious from the downturn — don’t make a mistake in hiring, the idea goes, because it could be costly to pick the wrong person.

The flipside of that theory is that employers are not only nervous but spoiled — there are lots of unemployed people out there, so employers have lots of candidates to pick from and aren’t trying too hard to seek out the best candidates themselves.