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Job openings increase in April to 3.1M, the highest in 16 months

WASHINGTON - Job openings jumped in April to the highest level in 16 months, a sign that private employers may boost hiring in coming months.

The number of jobs advertised at the end of April rose to 3.1 million from 2.8 million in March, the Labor Department said yesterday. That's the most openings since December, 2008.

Private employers accounted for the entire net gain. The government's advertising for jobs decreased, despite the hiring of hundreds of thousands of census workers in May.

The department's report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, follows a disappointing employment report Friday that found private employers added only 41,000 jobs in May.

Temporary census hiring accounted for 411,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent in April.

"This is a quite positive report, which indicates that the ongoing rebound in demand is causing firms to look to increase employment as they ramp up production," said Nicholas Tenev, an analyst at Barclays Capital.

Job openings have risen by about 740,000 since bottoming out at 2.3 million in July. But they remain far below prerecession levels of about 4.5 million openings per month.

The competition for jobs remains tough. There were 5 unemployed people, on average, for each job opening in April. That's down from 5.4 in the previous month, but well above prerecession levels of 1.8 jobless workers per opening.

The biggest increases in available jobs were in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services. Government job openings fell by 36,000.

The report also found the number of people quitting jobs topped total layoffs for the third straight month.

Nearly 2 million people quit their jobs in April, an increase of about 130,000 in the past two months. An increasing number of people voluntarily leaving jobs is a sign of confidence in the employment market, economists say. Workers are less likely to cling to their jobs if they believe others are available.

Other surveys also show that companies are likely to increase hiring, although at a slow pace. Staffing company Manpower Inc. said yesterday that its quarterly employment outlook found more employers are planning to hire in the July-to-September quarter than in the preceding three months.

Manpower said its employment index rose to a seasonally adjusted 6 percent, a point higher than in the March-to-June period. The index was at minus 2 a year ago, meaning more employers planned to cut jobs than to hire. The survey covers 18,000 private and government entities.

The reports come after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said late Monday that the recovery will continue "but it won't feel terrific."

That's because economic growth won't be robust enough to quickly drive down the unemployment rate, he said in remarks to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a nonpartisan research group.

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