It's starting to look like a worker’s market.
Just a year after the economy lost 20.5 million jobs, the number of new openings surged to a record high of 9.3 million in April, according to the Labor Department’s latest JOLTS report. The rate of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs also hit an all-time high of 2.7%.
New hires, by contrast, remained little changed at 6.1 million in April.
"It's obviously a historic level... it's just a tremendous amount of demand," Nick Bunker, director of research at Indeed, told Yahoo Money. "If we continue to see the labor market this tight, that means job seekers are going to have a much stronger voice in that conversation than they had in the past."
April's job openings — up 998,000 from March — are 32% higher than its pre-pandemic level of 7 million in February 2020. Job openings in accommodation and food services posted the largest monthly increase of 349,000, reaching 1.3 million in April, while hires in the sector increased by 232,000 in April, reaching 1.2 million.
Quit rates were well above from their pandemic low of 1.6% in April 2020. An increase in voluntary quit rates is considered a sign of workers' confidence.
"We've never seen the overall quits rate that high," Bunker said. "Workers have a lot of confidence right now. They either are feeling they have the opportunity to move to a new better job, or they want to get away from position they don't like right now."
At the same time, the number and rate of layoffs and discharges hit new series lows at 1.4 million and 1%, respectively.
Wages for new hires in low-wage service industry jobs — the ones hardest hit by the pandemic shutdowns — are growing faster than expected, driven by surging demand and more reluctant supply, a recent paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta found.
The April numbers come as concerns over labor shortages, especially in the restaurant and service industries, mount. Twenty-five states plan to cancel pandemic-era unemployment benefits this month to encourage jobless workers to seek new jobs, even though the programs expire in September.
The number of unemployed workers per job opening fell to 1.1, a significant drop from its peak of 5 unemployed workers per job opening in April 2020. The ratio still remains above its pre-pandemic level, but the rapid progress is impressive.
"That had never happened before," Bunker said. "In that recession that started in December of 2007, we didn't get to that 1.1 ratio until 10-plus years later."