Job openings reached a series high in March 2022. Although the number of job openings began to decline after the peak, they remained at historically high levels throughout the year. Hires increased compared with 2021, but growth slowed as the year progressed. Total separations rose as well, driven largely by quits. Although layoffs and discharges also increased in 2022, their annual levels remained far below those recorded prior to the COVID-19-induced recession. This article reviews the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) seasonally adjusted estimates for 2022 at the total nonfarm, industry, size class, and state levels. (For definitions of JOLTS terms, see the box that follows.)
Job openings includes all positions that are open on the last business day of the reference month. A job is open only if it meets the following three conditions: (1) A specific position exists and there is work available for that position; the position can be full time or part time, and it can be permanent, short term, or seasonal; (2) the job could start within 30 days, whether or not the employer can find a suitable candidate during that time; and (3) the employer is actively recruiting workers from outside the establishment to fill the position; active recruiting means that the establishment is taking steps to fill a position and may include advertising in newspapers, on television, or on the radio; posting internet notices, posting “help wanted” signs, networking or making “word-of-mouth” announcements; accepting applications; interviewing candidates; contacting employment agencies; or soliciting employees at job fairs, state or local employment offices, or similar sources.
Excluded are positions open only to internal transfers, promotions or demotions, or recalls from layoffs. Also excluded are openings for positions with start dates more than 30 days in the future, positions for which employees have been hired but the employees have not yet reported for work, and positions to be filled by employees of temporary help agencies, employee leasing companies, outside contractors, or consultants.
Hires include all additions to the payroll during the entire reference month, including newly hired and rehired employees; full-time and part-time employees; permanent, short-term, and seasonal employees; employees who were recalled to a job at the location following a layoff (formal suspension from pay status) lasting more than 7 days; on-call or intermittent employees who returned to work after having been formally separated; workers who were hired and separated during the month; and transfers from other locations.
Excluded are transfers or promotions within the reporting location, employees returning from a strike, and employees of temporary help agencies, employee leasing companies, outside contractors, or consultants.
Separations include all separations from the payroll during the entire reference month and are reported by type of separation: quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations. Quits include employees who left voluntarily, except for retirements or transfers to other locations. Layoffs and discharges include involuntary separations initiated by the employer, including layoffs with no intent to rehire; layoffs (formal suspensions from pay status) lasting or expected to last more than 7 days; discharges resulting from mergers, downsizing, or closings; firings or other discharges for cause; terminations of permanent or short-term employees; and terminations of seasonal employees (whether or not they are expected to return the next season). Other separations include retirements, transfers to other locations, separations due to employee disability; and deaths.
Excluded are transfers within the same location, employees on strike, and employees of temporary help agencies, employee leasing companies, outside contractors, or consultants.
This section discusses how each of the JOLTS data elements trended at the total nonfarm level throughout 2022.
In the wake of the pandemic-induced recession from February to April 2020, the number of job openings rose sharply before reaching a series high of 12.0 million in March 2022. Job openings then decreased throughout the spring and summer, falling to a 2022 low of 10.2 million by August. After a small rebound in September, levels declined again in October. In the final 2 months of the year, job openings began to increase again, ending with 11.2 million in December. Job openings throughout 2022 remained considerably higher than the prepandemic level of 7.0 million in February 2020. The job openings level can be a sign of shifts in the economy and often increases when approaching an economic expansion or decreases when approaching an economic contraction. In short, a high level of job openings is indicative of a strong labor market and vice versa.
Job openings and employment historically have a positive relationship in which the two measures tend to increase and decrease together. By contrast, job openings and unemployment tend to move in opposite directions. In 2022, employment, while exhibiting slower growth than in 2021, recovered from its sharp decline at the onset of the pandemic and began to expand. Unemployment spiked at the onset of the pandemic but by the spring of 2022 was back in line with prepandemic levels.
During the COVID-19 recession, the ratio of unemployed people per job opening, which can provide insight into how difficult it is for workers to find employment, reached a high of 4.9 in April 2020. This measure has fallen since and reached historical lows in 2022. A low ratio indicates a low level of unemployed and a high level of job openings. Throughout 2022, the ratio has been in a narrow range of 0.5 to 0.6. The record lows for the ratio reflect the historically high levels of job openings as well as the decline in unemployment. (See chart 1.)
Total nonfarm hires trended upward during 2021 and into the beginning of 2022, reaching its highest point of the year in February at 6.8 million. Throughout the remainder of 2022, the monthly hires level generally trended downward and ended the year at 6.3 million. Hires have continued to increase year over year, but growth has slowed. There were 77.2 million hires in 2022, up from 76.1 million in 2021 and substantially higher than the 72.6 million in 2020. The annual average hires rate (hires for the year as a percentage of employment) was 4.2 percent in 2022. This rate is higher than those prior to the pandemic; between 2015 and 2019, the total hires rate ranged from 3.7 to 3.9 percent. Like job openings, the increase in both hires and employment reflects their positive relationship with each other.
The difference between job openings and hires rose sharply in the beginning of 2021, hitting its largest gap in JOLTS history at 5.5 million in March 2022. This coincided with the largest job openings level in JOLTS history at 12.0 million. The gap began to shrink as the year progressed, falling to 3.7 million in August, but then growing to 5.0 million by December. (See chart 2.)
The large gap between job openings and hires reflects the continued effect of the postpandemic recovery. Establishments are still struggling to fill vacant positions as a result of broad-based worker shortages.1 Costs to employers have also nominally increased. Compensation costs for civilian workers increased 5.1 percent in 2022, compared with an increase of 3.9 percent in 2021.2 (Compensation costs include the sum of wages and salaries plus benefit costs.) These economic trends occurred during an inflationary period, with the Consumer Price Index rising 6.4 percent in 2022.3
At the national level, total separations had been trending upward since the second half of 2020. This trend culminated in a peak of 6.2 million total separations in January 2022. Levels for the next 3 months remained flat before beginning to decline in May. After reaching a low of 5.9 million in July, total separations reached another peak of 6.2 million in August, followed immediately by the year’s lowest level of 5.8 million in September. Total separations in the last 3 months of 2022 changed little, ending the year at 5.9 million. (See chart 3.)
In 2022, there were 72.3 million total separations, eclipsing 2021’s level of 69.0 million. The annual average total separation rate (separations for the year as a percentage of employment) was 4.0 percent in 2022, similar to 2021’s 3.9 percent. From 2015 through 2019, the average annual total separation rate ranged from 3.5 to 3.8 percent.
The three components of total separations (quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations) often exhibit different economic trends. Quits—which are considered employee initiated—are procyclical, which means that the number of quits typically rises when the economy expands and declines when the economy contracts. Conversely, layoffs and discharges—which are employer initiated—are countercyclical, which means that the estimates typically rise during economic contractions and fall during economic expansions. Other separations—which include transfers, retirements, separations due to disability, and deaths—consistently make up a small percentage of total separations and do not generally rise or fall with economic trends.
The percentage distribution of the three separation types changed little throughout 2022 and has held steady since April 2021. During this time, 68 to 73 percent of total separations were recorded as quits, and 22 to 26 percent of separations were recorded as layoffs and discharges. This distribution is markedly different from the years prior to the onset of the pandemic. In the 5-year period from 2015 through 2019, quits averaged 59 percent of total separations, and layoffs and discharges averaged 34 percent. Other separations made up 5 to 7 percent of the total distribution, which holds true both before and after the pandemic-induced recession. (See chart 4.)
Between mid-2020 and March 2022, the trend in quits—currently the largest component of total separations—closely mirrored trends in overall total separations. While total separations peaked early in 2022 and remained flat through April, quits were also at historically high levels, culminating in a peak of 4.5 million in April. Notably, job openings were also at their highest levels during the first months of the year.
As large numbers of workers were leaving their jobs, employers were listing additional job openings to replace their workforce. During May and June, job openings began to decline, and quits levels also decreased. The two elements drive and influence each other; as job openings increase, workers have more confidence to quit their jobs. As more workers quit their jobs, employers list more job openings. The relationship also works in the opposite direction. If there are fewer job openings available, workers are less confident in quitting their current jobs. When workers are quitting less, employers need fewer job openings to replace said workers.
Quits reached a 2022 low in July at 4.0 million but bounced back to 4.2 million in August. Quits then edged down to 4.1 million in September and 4.0 million in October. In the last 2 months of 2022, job openings began to increase while quits flattened out at 4.1 million. (See chart 5.)
National quits for the year totaled 50.6 million, compared with 47.7 million in 2021, an increase of 2.9 million. In 2022, the annual average quits rate (quits for the year as a percentage of employment) was 2.8 percent, compared with 2.7 percent in 2021. These levels and rates are up from those prior to the pandemic and continue the trend leading up to 2020. Annual quits levels and rates increased year over year from 33.6 million and 2.0 percent in 2015 to 42.1 million and 2.3 percent by 2019.
While quits rose throughout 2021, layoffs and discharges fell to historically low levels by the end of that year. However, this downward trend ended once 2022 began, with layoffs and discharges flattening out at around 1.3 million per month through the first few months. When quits began trending downward in May, layoffs and discharges slowly trended up, reaching a peak of 1.6 million in August. After dropping to 1.4 million in September, the layoffs and discharges levels remained flat until the end of the year. (See chart 5.)
In 2022, the total number of layoffs and discharges was 17.6 million. This was an increase of 0.5 million from 2021, which had the lowest total number of layoffs and discharges of any year in JOLTS history. However, the annual average layoffs and discharges rate (layoffs and discharges for the year as a percentage of employment) for both years was 1.0 percent. These levels and rates are far below the pre-COVID-19 annual totals. In the 5-year period from 2015 to 2019, the annual layoffs and discharges level averaged 21.6 million, and the average annual total layoffs and discharges rate ranged from 1.2 to 1.3 percent.
This section discusses churn and job opening rates at the industry level in 2022.
Churn, a measure of employment dynamics, is defined as hires plus total separations, and it represents the combined movement into and out of a labor market. Because industries vary a great deal in size, it is useful to look at churn rates, defined as the hires rate (hires as a percentage of employment) plus the separations rate (separations as a percentage of employment). A higher churn rate means more hires and separations, while a lower rate indicates there are fewer hires and separations.
The industries with the highest churn rates in 2022 were accommodation and food services (14.5 percent); arts, entertainment, and recreation (13.5 percent); and professional and business services (10.9 percent). These three industries also had the highest rates of churn in 2021 and are historically at or near the top in most years. The first two industries are part of the larger leisure and hospitality sector, which employs many young, seasonal workers.4 This sector also employs the largest share of workers earning the federal minimum wage or less, and employees within these industries are among those with the lowest median years of tenure at their jobs.5 In addition to having the highest churn rate of all industries in 2022, accommodation and food services also had the largest quits rate (5.8 percent). Of the total separations in accommodation and food services in 2022, 83 percent were quits, compared with the national average of 70 percent, and 15 percent of this industry’s total separations were layoffs and discharges, lower than the national average of 24 percent. The third industry of the top three—professional and business services—includes temporary help services, which made up 13.3 percent of the industry’s employment in December 2022.6
The industries with the lowest churn rates in 2022 were in the public sector: federal government (2.9 percent); state and local government education (3.4 percent); and state and local government, excluding education (3.9 percent). Employees in the public sector also tend to have the highest median years of tenure when compared with workers in other industries. Federal government is also noteworthy for having the largest percentage of its total separations be made up by other separations. Of its total separations in 2022, 33 percent were other separations, compared with 6 percent for the national average. Federal government had a higher other separations rate than the nation overall (0.5 versus 0.2 percent), but the lowest quits rate and the lowest layoffs and discharges rate of any industry. (See chart 6.)
The hires-to-total-separations gap can indicate workforce growth or decline across the industries. The industry with the lowest-hires-to-total separations gap was federal government (50 percent hires and 50 percent total separations). Federal government employment was unchanged in 2022.7 The industry with the highest hires-to-total-separations gap was mining and logging (55 percent hires and 45 percent total separations). In 2022, mining and logging employment increased by 49,000 (8.5 percent).8 The total nonfarm hires-to-total-separations gap was 51 percent hires and 49 percent total separations. Total nonfarm employment rose by 4.8 million in 2022 (3.2 percent).9
By December 2022, employment had exceeded its 2020 prepandemic levels in most industries. Notable exceptions include arts, entertainment, and recreation (3.8 percent lower than in February 2020); accommodation and food services (−3.7 percent); and state and local government education (−3.6 percent).10
In 2022, the annual average job openings rate—that is, job openings as a percentage of total employment plus job openings—increased for most industries. From 2021 to 2022, real estate and rental and leasing saw the highest increase at 1.4 percentage points. Arts, entertainment, and recreation saw the sharpest decline—the rate decreased 0.8 percentage point. (See table 1.)
|2020||2021||2022||2020||2021||2022||2021 to 2022|
Mining and logging
Trade, transportation, and utilities
Transportation, warehousing, and utilities
Finance and insurance
Real estate and rental and leasing
Professional and business services
Education and health services
Healthcare and social assistance
Leisure and hospitality
Arts, entertainment, and recreation
Accommodation and food services
State and local
Note: Details may not sum to totals because of rounding.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The industries with the highest job openings rates in 2022 were accommodation and food services (9.5 percent), professional and business services (8.7 percent), and healthcare and social assistance (8.8 percent). These three industries are typically among those with the highest rates each year. The first two industries are in the top three industries in terms of churn. The industries with the lowest job openings rates in 2022 were state and local government education (3.1 percent), educational services (4.4 percent), and federal government (4.7 percent). Historically, these industries generally have the lowest job openings rates. These three industries also usually have the lowest churn rates.
JOLTS produces estimates by different establishment sizes, with size class determined by the maximum employment of an establishment over the last 12 months. JOLTS separates size class into six categories, starting with establishments with 1 to 9 employees and ending with those with 5,000 or more employees. In recent years, establishments with 10 to 49 employees and 50 to 249 employees accounted for almost two-thirds of total private employment. The largest size class accounted for the smallest share of total private employment (less than 5 percent), while the smallest size class accounted for a little under 20 percent. Understanding how the different size classes respond to changes in the economy can help economists to better understand the labor market.11
In 2022, as in the past, the establishments in the largest size class had the lowest annual average rates for hires, total separations, and churn (hires plus total separations) at 2.1, 1.7, and 3.9 percent, respectively. (See table 2.) A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2011 showed that larger establishments are more resistant to negative economic impact than smaller establishments are.12 This resilience may explain why the rates for establishments in the largest size class historically have been lower than those in other size classes. Larger establishments may have access to more financial resources during a recession and may be able to retain more of their employees than smaller establishments. Once economic conditions improve, smaller establishments may need to hire more relative to their size in order to replace the employees they lost.
|Size class||Total annual level||Annual average rate||Rate change|
|2020||2021||2022||2020||2021||2022||2021 to 2022|
5,000 or more employees
5,000 or more employees
5,000 or more employees
Notes: Details may not sum to totals because of rounding. Churn rate equals hire rate plus separation rate.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Establishments with 50 to 249 employees had the highest annual average rates for hires, total separations, and churn at 5.1, 4.8, and 9.9 percent, respectively.
The unemployed people per job openings ratio allows comparisons of those available for work and availability of jobs across states. In 2022, ratios for all states and the District of Columbia ranged from 0.3 to 0.8, compared with last year’s range of 0.4 and 1.5. Most states saw declines in the ratio between 2021 and 2022, in line with the national trend, which has been trending downward since the recession in 2020.
In 2022, the state with the highest ratio was New York (0.8). The states with the lowest ratios were Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont (0.3 each). Nebraska also had the lowest ratio the previous year (0.4). (See chart 7.)
In 2022, quits continued to be at historically high levels and accounted for the majority of total separations. Layoffs and discharge levels remained lower than those recorded prior to the recession of 2020, even as they rose in 2022. Hires reached a yearly high in February 2022 before trending down for the rest of the year. Although total hires increased in 2022, growth in this measure was at a slower pace than in 2021. Job openings were at historically high levels throughout 2022, hitting a series high in March before dropping in the remaining months. In summary, JOLTS data indicate that in 2022 the economy continued to exhibit high levels of worker mobility and labor demand.
Rick Penn and Victor Huang, "Job openings reach record highs in 2022 as the labor market recovery continues ," Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2023.10
1 See Deepa D. Datta, Laura Feiveson, Ekaterina Peneva, and Gisela Rua “Bottlenecks, shortages, and soaring prices in the U.S. economy,” FEDS Notes (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, June 24, 2022), https://doi.org/10.17016/2380-7172.3153.
2 See “Compensation costs up 5.1 percent from December 2021 to December 2022,” The Economics Daily (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2, 2023), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2023/compensation-costs-up-5-1-percent-from-december-2021-to-december-2022.htm.
4 See “Household data—annual averages—table 18b. Employed persons by detailed industry and age,” Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified on January 25, 2023), https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18b.htm.
5 For information about minimum and subminimum wage workers, see “Characteristics of minimum wage workers, 2021,” BLS Reports, Report 1098 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2022), https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2021/home.htm. For additional information about employee tenure differences in the United States, see Employee tenure in 2022, USDL-22-1894 (U.S. Department of Labor, September 22, 2022), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/tenure.pdf.
6 See “Employment, hours, and earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)—All employees, thousands, temporary help services, seasonally adjusted” series CES6056132001 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES6000000001&series_id=CES6056132001.
7 See “Employment, hours, and earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)—All employees, thousands, federal, seasonally adjusted” series CES9091000001(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES9091000001.
8 See “Employment, hours, and earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)—All employees, thousands, mining and logging, seasonally adjusted” series CES1000000001(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES1000000001.
9 See “Employment, hours, and earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)—All employees, thousands, total nonfarm, seasonally adjusted” series CES0000000001(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES0000000001.
10 “Employment, hours, and earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National)—All employees, thousands, local government education, seasonally adjusted” series CES9093161101(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES7071000001&series_id=CES7072000001&series_id=CES9092161101&series_id=CES9093161101.
11 For more information about Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) size class data, see “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, JOLTS estimates by establishment size class” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified October 14, 2022), https://www.bls.gov/jlt/sizeclassmethodology.htm.
12 Aysegül Sahin, Sagiri Kitao, Anna Cororaton, and Sergiu Laiu, “Why small businesses were hit harder by the recent recession,” Current issues in economics and finance, vol. 17, no. 4 (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, July 2011), https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/current_issues/ci17-4.pdf.