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Even As Jobless Rate Stays High, Job Openings Continue To Grow

Applicants wait to enter a job fair in New York City last month.
John Moore
Getty Images
Applicants wait to enter a job fair in New York City last month.

There were 3.6 million jobs open and ready to be filled in May if the right candidates came along, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning.

That was up from 3.4 million in April, was the second-most for any month so far this year and was up 16 percent from the 3.1 million in May 2011.

But we also know that employers only increased the number of people on their payrolls by 77,000 in May (and an estimated 80,000 in June). And we know that the unemployment rate has been stuck above 8 percent since February 2009.

It would be unrealistic to expect that every job would suddenly get filled. And in a dynamic economy, jobs are always opening up and vacancies are being created.

But why is there such a huge gap between the number of new positions being filled and the number of openings that businesses say they have?

As NPR's Marilyn Geewax wrote for us last month, one theory is that too many employers are being way too picky — they're looking for the "perfect" candidates when there are many well-qualified people seeking work who might be just what's needed if given a little training.

There's also a case to be made that while many employers say they have openings they want to fill, they're really not all that keen to hire until they see the economy pick up some steam. Of course, in order for the economy to gain strength there needs to be some job growth. So their reluctance could just be prolonging the problem.

Politicians, as always, are pointing fingers at each other.

The good news in the new figures, according to The Associated Press, is this: "A rise in openings could mean hiring will pick up in the coming months. It typically takes one to three months to fill a job."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.