WASHINGTON - Finding a job got much tougher last year.
The number of available openings fell by nearly one quarter.
Meanwhile, the unemployed population grew more than a third, meaning more laid-off workers were seeking fewer jobs.
On average, there were 6.1 unemployed workers in December for every available position, according to U.S. Labor Department data released yesterday. That is up from 3.4 in December, 2008, and 1.7 in December, 2007, when the recession began.
The economy grew in the second half of last year, and gross domestic product, the broadest measure of output, rose 5.7 percent in the fourth quarter.
That should lead to more hiring, but employers are reluctant to add jobs. Economists say many companies are unsure whether the recovery will continue and how health-care reform and other government policies will affect them.
"No business hires into uncertainty, and right now there's too much uncertainty in the markets," said Harry Griendling, chief executive of DoubleStar Inc., a consulting firm specializing in recruitment.
At December's end, 2.5 million jobs were available, according to the Labor Department's survey, including all jobs publicly listed by companies and government agencies. The survey does not include temporary-agency jobs. About 250,000 such jobs have been added in four months.