May 2014

Job openings continue to rise in 2013

All Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) measures reflected an improving economy in 2013. Job openings trended up over the year and increased in a majority of industries. Hires also grew but more slowly than job openings. Quits—a measure of voluntary separations—rose over the year and across most industries. Layoffs and discharges—involuntary separations—continued to decline, falling even lower than prerecession levels.

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data showed continued improvement of the labor market in 2013. Job openings, hires, and separations all increased in 2013, although none returned to their prerecession levels. Data (not seasonally adjusted) show that the average monthly number of job openings—a measure of labor demand—increased from 3.7 million in 2012 to 3.9 million in 2013, which was still below the monthly average of 4.5 million in 2007. Hires and separations—measures of worker flows—grew more slowly. From 2012 to 2013, the average monthly number of hires increased from 4.4 million to 4.5 million. The average monthly number of total separations rose from 4.2 million in 2012 to 4.3 million in 2013.

Three components make up the JOLTS total separations measure: quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations (such as retirements, transfers, deaths, and separations caused by disability). From 2012 to 2013, the average monthly number of quits increased from 2.1 million to 2.3 million. During that same period, the average monthly number of layoffs and discharges edged down to 1.7 million in 2013. Average monthly other separations increased from 342,000 to 355,000.

December 2013 marked 54 months since the end of the most recent recession; during that time, layoffs and discharges was the only JOLTS measure that had returned to or exceeded its prerecession levels or rates.

The JOLTS program measures job openings, hires, total separations, quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations on a monthly basis by industry1 and geographic region.2 JOLTS measures labor demand and worker flows by collecting data monthly from a sample of approximately 16,000 nonfarm business and government establishments. Published JOLTS data are available from December 2000 forward. In this report, JOLTS annual totals and monthly averages of annual totals are not seasonally adjusted. Data for a specific month are seasonally adjusted. This article analyzes trends in JOLTS data in 2013 as well as how these data compare to those during the most recent recession.

Job openings

Job openings reflected an expansion in labor demand during 2013. Over the year, the average monthly number of job openings—measured on the last business day of the reference month—increased 6.5 percent, from 3.7 million in 2012 to 3.9 million in 2013. However, growth of job openings slowed in 2013 compared with previous years; the average monthly number of job openings increased 13.8 percent in 2012 and 13.1 percent in 2011.

Job openings are a procyclical measure of labor demand. That is, they tend to increase during economic expansions and decline during economic contractions. Job openings and nonfarm payroll employment from the Current Employment Statistics (CES)3 survey tend to move in a similar pattern, with changes in job openings leading changes in employment by a few months (see figure 1). The number of job openings peaked at 4.7 million in March 2007 and then declined to 4.3 million by the official start of the recession in December 2007. Employment peaked a month later at 138.4 million in January 2008. The number of job openings declined to a series low of 2.1 million in July 2009, one month after the official end of the recession. Employment continued to decline after the end of the recession, reaching a low point in February 2010. Both series have shown steady growth since 2010. Annual data since 2001 show that JOLTS job openings and CES employment tend to have similar growth trends over the business cycle, with job openings leading employment slightly during both upturns and downturns of the business cycle (see table 1).


1 The term “industry” can refer to a supersector, sector, or subsector, depending on the context. In analyzing “industries,” the JOLTS program follows the North American Industrial Classification System.

2 The most detailed geographical breakout the JOLTS sample can provide is by region: the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, and the West.

3 Data on employment are available from the Current Employment Statistics program at

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About the Author

Megan Sweitzer

Megan Sweitzer is an economist in the Office of Industry Employment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.