Updated Jan 3, 2024 - Economy

America's remarkable jobs boom comes back to earth

A "We're Hiring" sign inside an AutoZone store in New York last month. Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Steady job postings, cooler hiring and less quitting: After a record-shattering stretch, America's once-remarkable labor market has settled into a more normal groove.

Why it matters: The result is sufficiently cool demand that won't stoke inflation but is still robust enough for workers who want a job to find one.

Driving the news: The number of job postings held at 8.8 million in November, according to the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released this morning.

  • But other signs pointed to a continued cooldown as the year came to a close. Hiring eased slightly to 5.5 million — 363,000 fewer hires than in October. The number of quits, which serves as a sign of how willing workers are to leave their jobs, fell to 3.5 million, down 157,000 from the prior month.
  • Layoffs, meanwhile, changed little at 1.5 million.

Zoom out: Many of these indicators have returned to their pre-pandemic baseline — a remarkable turnaround from the eye-popping levels reached in 2022 and 2023.

  • The pace of hiring is below that of December 2019, when about 5.9 million workers were hired — a story that's playing out across most sectors tracked by the government.
  • Quits, too, have normalized: The rate of workers leaving their jobs voluntarily officially fell below December 2019 levels. After recently peaking at 3% in April 2022, it's down to 2.2% (it was 2.3% in the final month of 2019).

Yes, but: Job openings are the exception: There are still far more vacancies than at any point before the pandemic. But the figure has dropped from its all-time record of 12 million openings, reached in March 2022.

  • There are 1.4 job openings for every available worker — down from the record 2 vacancies in March 2022, but still a few ticks above the 1.1 open jobs at the end of 2019.

What they're saying: "Less exciting is a good thing in this instance," wrote NerdWallet data analyst Elizabeth Renter in a note.

  • "Drama in the data can be a red flag, potentially pointing to continued inflationary pressures, for example. But this November data sounds no such alarms," she wrote.

The bottom line: The labor market is no longer in its post-pandemic gangbusters state. Instead, it may be entering a more boring era where it's neither too hot nor too cold.

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