John Egan
30 Jan 2020

Click through the tabs above for a deep dive into this month’s JOLTS report.
Data Visualizations: Drew Stanley

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Job openings fell by more than 560,000 in November, BLS says.

Sharp declines in the retail and construction sectors led to an overall drop of more than half a million job openings in November 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Jan. 17.

Job openings from October 2019 to November 2019 saw the steepest falloffs in retail (139,000) and construction (112,000).

The bureau said that as of Nov. 29, the number of U.S. job openings outside farming sank by 561,000 from October 2019. The private sector accounted for 520,000 of those jobs. The number of job openings took an even deeper dive compared with November 2018 — 826,000 jobs.

At the end of November 2019, BLS counted 6.8 million available jobs as part of its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS). That compares with 7.1 million in October 2019 and 6.9 million in November 2018.

The job openings rate decreased to 4.3% in November 2019 versus 4.6% in October 2019 and 4.8% in November 2018. This rate measures the number of job openings on the last business day of the month as a share of total employment plus job openings.

In the retail sector, the job openings rate slipped to 4.5% in November 2019 compared with 5.3% in October 2019 and 6.5% in November 2018. Meanwhile, the job openings rate for the construction sector tumbled to 2.8% in November 2019 from 4.2% in October 2019 and 3.6% in November 2018.

On Jan. 10, seven days before the bureau’s job openings report came out, the White House Council of Economic Advisers boasted that the nation’s unemployment rate in December 2019 remained steady at 3.5 percent. Last year, the U.S. added an average of 176,000 jobs a month, the council said.

“To put that growth into perspective, the U.S. economy needs to create around 70,000 jobs a month to keep pace with working-age population growth. Any employment growth above this level is typically from workers coming off the sidelines,” the council said.

While the number of job openings in November 2019 went down, the BLS figures for hires and separations outside farming were stable (5.8 million and 5.6 million, respectively). The separations category — otherwise known as turnover — includes workers who quit, who retired, were fired or were laid off.

The hires and separations rates were unchanged from October 2019 to November 2019 (3.8% and 3.7%, respectively). The hires rate for November 2018 was 3.9%, and the separations rate was 3.7%.

The hires rate is the number of hires divided by the number of people who worked. The separations rate looks at the number of separations as a share of total employment.

Among all employment sectors, professional and business services bore the brunt of layoffs and discharges in November 2019, at 441,000. That was up from 416,000 in October 2019 and 426,000 in November 2018. This number comprises employees who were involuntarily laid off or were fired for cause.

The construction sector saw layoffs and discharges go down from October 2019 to November 2019 (254,000 to 229,000). However, the number climbed from November 2018 to November 2019 (192,000 to 229,000).

Meanwhile, the number of layoffs and discharges in the retail sector fell from 200,000 in October 2019 to 175,000 in November 2019, and from 221,000 in November 2018.

In 2019, U.S.-based employers announced 592,000 job cuts, the highest annual total since 2015 (598,000) but well off the total of 1,288,030 in 2009, at the tail end of the Great Recession, according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. Last year, retail led all sectors with 77,475 job cuts, down 21% from 98,563 job cuts in 2018. Retail bankruptcies triggered a big chunk of last year’s job cuts.

In December 2019, the number of announced job cuts hit its lowest monthly total (32,843) since July 2018 (27,122).

“Confidence was high heading into the last month of the year. With some resolutions occurring in the trade war and strong consumer spending in the fourth quarter, companies appear to be taking a wait- and-see approach … into 2020,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger Gray & Christmas.

John Egan

John Egan is a freelance writer, editor and content marketing strategist in Austin. His work has been published by,, Bankrate, Credit Karma, LendingTree, PolicyGenius, HuffPost, National Real Estate Investor,, U.S. News & World Report, Urban Land and other online outlets. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in communications from Southern New Hampshire University.