Aug 1, 2023 - Economy

Job turnover data show a slow, painless labor market correction

Illustration of a person wearing a red necktie with a smiley face pattern.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The latest data on job openings and turnover out Tuesday shows how the steam is coming out of the U.S. labor market. It's happening so exceptionally slowly and painlessly that it's easy not to notice.

Why it matters: This gradual shift away from the ultra-tight labor market of 2021 is reducing inflationary pressure and mitigating frustrations caused by labor shortages. Yet it's leaving workers in a broadly favorable position and happening without large-scale job losses.

  • In effect, the labor market is rebalancing itself without the pain of a recession — a rarity in modern economic history.

By the numbers: June's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), showed the number of people hired in June was down 326,000 from May. The hires rate declined to 3.8%, from 4%.

  • That number was 4.6% in November 2021 — an all-time high for the series dating to 2000, other than in 2020's pandemic-distorted time.
  • Companies hired in June at rates similar to 2019 — a time with a robust labor market but without much inflationary pressure. In other words, since late 2021, hiring has gone from insanely hot to pleasantly warm.

The same trend is evident in the rate at which workers voluntarily quit their jobs. The high point of people leaving their jobs was also November 2021, when the quit rate hit 3%, an all-time high in the data series. In June, it fell to 2.4%, down from 2.6% in May.

  • This, too, is about the same as levels were in 2019, when it averaged 2.3%.
  • The Great Resignation has given way to the Normal, Healthy Job Market Resignation.

Between the lines: For all the splashy layoff announcements from tech and financial firms over the last year, this rebalancing has taken place without mass layoffs.

  • Indeed, the rate at which companies have laid off or discharged workers has shown no upward trend at all over the last two years.
  • It was unchanged in June, at 1%. It has hovered close to that rate ever since January 2021.

What they're saying: "The data on layoffs show just how resilient employer demand for workers remains," Nick Bunker, head of economic research at Indeed Hiring Lab, said in a note.

  • "Layoff data, a loud emergency siren during economic downturns, are instead signaling a muted 'all's well' for current employees."
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