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Data: BLS via Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of job openings in the U.S. declined consistently throughout 2019 and took a nosedive in the last two months of the year, the government's December Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) showed.

The state of play: Job openings declined by 364,000 in December after a decline of 561,000 in November.

  • The total number of openings fell to 6.4 million, the lowest in nearly two years, and the decline over the past year is the largest since the financial crisis.

Why it matters: “Net, net, job openings around the country are plummeting in a way that we hate to say looks like a recession,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, told CNBC.

  • Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, told Barron's “It’s clear here that with a 2%-type GDP economy rather than something near 3% has resulted in a lesser demand for labor.”

Yes, but: The numbers in the rest of the JOLTS report tell a different story.

  • The total hire rate increased for the month, from 3.8% to 3.9%, and separations increased just 0.1 percentage point, to 3.8%.
  • The all-important quits rate, seen as a top measure of worker confidence, held steady at 2.3%, still near the highest level on record.

Go deeper: U.S. economy adds 145,000 jobs in final report of 2019

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