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story.lead_photo.caption In this March 1, 2019, photo signs for employment opportunities are posted at an exit ramp off of Interstate 79 in Zelienople, Pa. On Tuesday, May 7, the Labor Department reports on job openings and labor turnover for March. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

WASHINGTON -- U.S. employers advertised almost 7.5 million jobs at the end of March, a solid figure that signals hiring likely will remain strong in the months ahead.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings rose 4.8% from the previous month, while the number of people quitting their jobs slipped. There are now 1.2 million more open jobs than there are unemployed Americans, a dynamic that suggests businesses will have to keep raising pay to attract and retain the workers they need.

The figures underscore the ongoing strong demand for labor that exists at U.S. companies, as the recovery nears the end of its 10th year. On Friday, the government said that employers added a surprisingly high 263,000 jobs in April, while the unemployment rate fell to a nearly 50-year low of 3.6%.

Job openings jumped in construction, shipping and warehousing, health care, and a category that mostly includes restaurants and hotels.

Tuesday's report, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, tracks the number of available jobs, as well as total hiring, the number of people quitting their jobs, and layoffs. Since the report began tracking the data in December 2000, there were always more unemployed people than there were open positions, until 13 months ago. That's when jobs outnumbered people for the first time.

Total hiring has not increased as much as job postings have, which suggests employers are struggling to fill jobs given the dwindling number of those out of work.

Job openings have risen 8.6% in the past year, while total hiring reflected in the Labor Department survey barely increased.

The survey tracks overall, or gross hiring, while the monthly jobs report calculates a net figure.

Separately, a rising number of people quitting their jobs is typically a sign of a healthy job market, as most workers leave jobs when they have other work lined up, usually at higher pay.

The quitting rate fell 1.1% in March from February to 3.4 million, but that is still above last year's figure. More quitting also can encourage employers to pay more, to discourage their workers from leaving.

The jobs bonanza slowed in areas of the country protected by President Donald Trump's tariffs.

If tariffs have created jobs in targeted industries such as steel, most economists argue that has been at a broader cost to the U.S. economy. But there also may be a more worrying trend emerging for Trump even as he roils markets again with threats to deploy more tariffs on China:

The strong headline figure in Friday's nonfarm payrolls report masked some weaker data related to sectors that had recorded gains thanks in part to the tariffs.

While the overall economy added 263,000 jobs in April, the number of nonsupervisory jobs in manufacturing -- the sort of production-line jobs Trump promised to bring home -- actually dipped by 4,000. Despite Trump's tariffs, the number of Americans working in the primary metals sector -- including steel -- also fell by more than 2,000 to 381,000 people.

The latter move meant that since Trump imposed national-security tariffs on steel and aluminum in late March 2018, the U.S. primary metals sector has grown by just 4,700 jobs in an economy that has added more than 2.6 million over the same period.

Employment also fell in the electrical equipment and appliance sector, where the administration has hailed the jobs created thanks to its tariffs on imported washing machines. Makers of industrial machinery -- many of whom rely on imported parts or are paying more for steel and aluminum than they used to -- employed 2,700 fewer people in April than they did in March.

Monthly data can be volatile and the overall picture for U.S. manufacturing jobs remains strong. Since Trump took office in January 2017, the manufacturing sector has added 470,000 jobs, employing 12.8 million people in April, according to the data released Friday.

But plenty of companies and economists remain concerned the costs of Trump's trade wars are piling up and risk dragging on growth as time goes on.

Matt Arnold, a machinery and industrials analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis, says part of the story reflected in the April jobs data is the uncertainty that has accompanied the trade wars and the impact on investment.

"There's some demand destruction taking place based on hesitance by management teams to make large scale capital investment decisions as they wait for more complete information on what the rules of the game are going to be," he said. And the affected decisions include investing in people.

Companies like General Motors Co. and Caterpillar Inc. have complained about the cost of tariffs on steel, which were imposed under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. GM has said tariffs are costing it $1 billion a year while Caterpillar said Thursday that it expected its cost from tariffs to be $250 million to $350 million this year.

"It's our impression that manufacturing has been victim of Section 232 and that could explain the reduction in jobs," said Timna Tanners, a steel analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "It's also our impression that steel consumption has been declining over the years and Section 232 could contribute further to that decline."

The jobs created by tariffs come at a high cost. One recent study found the 1,800 jobs created as a result of Trump's washing-machine tariffs each cost consumers $815,000 a year.

Benefits also tend to be short-lived, said Mary Lovely, an economist at Syracuse University. Any shift in demand to domestic producers leads to a one-time bump in employment. "And that's it," Lovely said. "They are not going to keep growing."

Advocates of tariffs dispute that. They argue the broader costs are both digestible for an economy like that of the U.S. that is doing well and worth it as they help protect important elements of a country's industrial base from unfair foreign competition and encourage domestic investment.

The trade wars are, of course, only one piece of the puzzle. Fears about their impact on global growth come alongside the U.S. economy's already prolonged recovery.

"Employers don't want to go out and dramatically increase their workforce or add brick-and-mortar capacity at this point in the cycle," said Larry De Maria, a machinery and industrials analyst at William Blair & Co. "They're probably more inclined to invest in automation instead of dramatically increase labor."

Information for this article was contributed by Christopher Rugaber of The Associated Press and by Shawn Donnan and Joe Deaux of Bloomberg News.

Business on 05/08/2019

Print Headline: 7.5 million open jobs advertised in March


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