Flextronics International Apple factory employees work on Apple Mac Pro computer assembly in Austin, TX, November 20, 2019.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

Job openings through the first full month of the coronavirus pandemic reached their lowest level in more than five years, according to Labor Department figures released Tuesday.

As companies shed record-breaking numbers of employees, the total vacancies plunged to 5.05 million in April, the lowest total since December 2014, the government’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey showed. That was a million below the March level and represented a 28% tumble from February’s 7.3 million. Economists surveyed by FactSet had been looking for 5.75 million.

The JOLTS report is a month behind the more closely followed nonfarm payrolls report, which showed a decline of 20.5 million jobs for April but an increase of 2.5 million in May. The two surveys differ in that the payrolls count captures data through the 12th of the month while the JOLTS report measures activity throughout the month.

Total job separations fell sharply in April, from 14.6 million in March to 9.9 million as some parts of the economy began to reopen and workers were called back to their jobs. Hires totaled 3.5 million, led by trade, transportation and utilities at 993,000, which included 688,000 retail jobs.

Hospitality showed a surprisingly strong hiring rate at 3.7%, representing 321,000 workers, compared with the overall 2.7% rate. However, the industry also led the separations rate at 23.3%, representing just more than 2 million workers. That compared with the overall separations rate of 7.5%.

Though it is lagged data, the JOLTS report is followed closely by policymakers as it shows tightness in the labor market. Up until a few months ago, the number of openings far exceeded the available pool of workers.

Now, though, the labor dynamics have changed as the economy grapples with a 13.3% unemployment rate and 21.5 million Americans collecting unemployment benefits. May’s payrolls report showed a swing in the jobs market with a 2.5 million increase and a fall from the 14.7% unemployment level in April.

The quits rate, a barometer for workers’ confidence that they can find a job elsewhere, tumbled to 1.4%, which was last lower in January 2010.

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