The number of workers being fired or laid off has hit the lowest point on record, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey showed only 1.25 million people lost their job in April, breaking the previous record low of 1.26 million recorded in December.
With job openings still near record levels and with nearly two openings for every unemployed job seeker, employers are desperate to hang on to the workers they have.
The same report showed that the number of job openings fell slightly to 11.4 million from a revised reading of 11.9 million in March, which was a record high. The number of workers who quit their jobs in April was essentially unchanged from March at 4.4 million and only slightly below the record 4.5 million who quit in November.
The number of people who quit their jobs does not necessarily mean they have left the labor force. The overwhelming majority have likely quit in order to take a new job. But that often creates a new job opening at their former employer when they depart.
Still, the number of adults in the US labor force is lower than it was before the pandemic began. A separate Labor Department reading showed nearly 600,000 fewer people were either working or looking for work in April than at the end of 2019.
Some of it could be due to people who retired during the pandemic and have decided not to return to the work force for health or other reasons. Some could be people who died during the pandemic – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 250,000 of the 1 million US deaths from Covid-19 were people aged 18 to 64.
Some of it could be parents who have not been able to find the child care they depended upon before the pandemic. And part of it could simply be people who reassessed their priorities during the pandemic and decided they didn’t want to continue to work, at least in the field in which they were previously employed.
Because it has become so difficult to find workers to fill openings, employers have essentially stopped laying off or firing people.
The Labor Department has been tracking job openings and the number of workers quitting or being let go from jobs since the end of 2000. Through the end of 2017, the number of job openings was always lower than the number of unemployed people looking for work. On average there were about two job seekers for every job opening during those 17 years.
But since early 2018 the balance has for the most part switched, with the number of openings most often being greater than the number of unemployed people looking for work.
After the rebound in hiring in mid-2020, the ratio of job openings to job seekers has swung increasingly in favor of job seekers. Wednesday’s report showed there are a record 1.92 openings for every unemployed person seeking work.