Job openings in the United States increased in March to the highest level in more than two years, an indication employers are becoming more optimistic about bringing on new workers.
The number of positions waiting to be filled rose by 99,000 to 3.12 million, the most since September, 2008, the Labor Department said Wednesday. The number of people hired also climbed and the number of workers fired was little changed.
Payrolls rose in April, extending the longest string of monthly gains since 2006-2007, Labor Department data showed last week. Accelerating job gains are needed to boost consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world's largest economy.
"Firms remain optimistic and expansion-minded," Aaron Smith, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pa., said before the report. "Although the labor market is gaining momentum, recovery will take awhile."
Job openings increased 3.3 percent in March from a revised 3.03 million in February, the Labor Department report showed.
The gain in job vacancies was led by a 61,000 increase in openings at providers of education and health services, followed by government agencies and retailers. Professional and business services were among industries showing fewer positions available.
The report helps shed light on the dynamics behind the monthly employment figures. Payrolls rose by 244,000 workers in April after a 221,000 gain the prior month, Labor Department figures showed on May 6.
Employers took on 4.04 million workers in March, or 57,000 more than the previous month, according to Thursday's report. Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their jobs voluntarily, increased to 1.6 million from 1.62 million a month before.
The number of people voluntarily leaving jobs rose to 1.93 million from 1.91 million in February. The increase may be one sign Americans feel more confident about finding other work. The number of people quitting their jobs in March represented 50 percent of all separations, the same as in February.
In the 12 months ended in March, the economy created a net 1.2 million jobs, representing about 47.6 million hires, compared with about 46.4 million separations, Thursday's report showed.
Compared with the 13.5 million Americans who were unemployed in March, Thursday's figures indicate there were 4.3 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December, 2007.
The number of jobless rose to 13.7 million in April, pushing the unemployment rate up to 9 percent from 8.8 percent the previous month, the Labor Department reported last week.
While payrolls have grown each month since October, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on April 27 said central bankers would like to see more strength in the U.S. job market and that the recovery has been "quite slow."
"The labor market is improving gradually," Mr. Bernanke said to reporters during the first-ever press conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting. "We would like to make sure that that is sustainable."