The private sector is not fine, as some extremely worrisome economic news today emphasizes.
The government’s April Job Opening and Labor Turnover report was, in the words of JPMorgan economists, “soft, lending some credence to the view that the April-May slowing seen in the payroll report was real and not a statistical fluke.”
– The number of job openings in April fell 325,000 to 3.416 million. That’s the lowest level since November of last year.
– But here is the real red flag. Private job openings fell 282,000 — the most since early 2009 — to 3.080 million. Early 2009, if you recall, saw the economy just hemorrhaging jobs.
– One bright spot in this report in March was the rising in people quitting their jobs, showing some confidence in the economy. But that “completely reversed itself in April.”
– Now layoffs, thank goodness, continue to be low, evidence that the problem here is a lack of hiring rather than lots of firing. Hires fell 159,000 last month to 3.882 million, the lowest since last July and well below even the weakest month of the prior expansion.
Bottom line: “The weakness in this report, particularly in the job openings figure, serves as a reminder that the labor market remains far from healthy.”
Recall that net new job growth was 77,000 in April and 69,000 in May. But without private sector gains, those numbers would be negative. So if private-sector job growth is weakening, as the JOLT report suggests, not only might those April and May numbers be revised lower, but June might come in negative. (Oh, and don’t forget the rise in jobless claims.)
Not only would that news be bad for U.S. workers, but it would be a political bombshell that would dominate the economic narrative for the next month.