The labor market continues to look (slowly) better. The Labor Department announced today that new claims for unemployment benefits fell to 339,000 last week, the lowest level in more than four and a half years.
Labor data on job turnover also is looking positive.
In addition to reporting the unemployment rate, the inflation rate, and dozens of other important economic numbers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also has a program called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS. The JOLTS program collects data once a month from stores, offices, factories, and other employers about their job openings, hiring, quits, and layoffs. This information can provide a lot of insight into what’s going on in the labor markets.
According to this survey, hiring and job openings have both been trending upward since the middle of 2009. Also, layoffs and discharges have been decreasing since then.
Even more importantly, the number of quits has been trending upward. This might sound like bad news, but it’s actually quite the opposite.
When more people are handing in letters of resignation, it either means that they’ve found a new job already, or else they feel confident that they’ll be able to do so quickly. Either way, it’s a vote of confidence in the economy. When things are terrible, workers don’t want to risk changing jobs. When things improve, they’re more likely to take chance.