By Anneken Tappe, CNN Business

The worker shortage has been a hallmark of the pandemic economy – and it’s far from getting resolved. In February, US businesses had 11.3 million job openings to fill, slightly more than economists had predicted.

The level of available positions was little changed from the start of the year but below the December all-time high of 11.4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey released Tuesday. For every job-seeking American, there were just below 1.8 positions available, matching the high from December.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans quitting their jobs inched up to 4.4 million in February – slightly higher than in the prior month, but below the November peak of 4.5 million. More workers quit retail, manufacturing and state and local government education jobs.

CNN Image “The worker shortage continues.” Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graphic: Tal Yellin, CNN.

NC economic forecast strong, but these 3 factors will determine the future

Where does the economy go, now?

The labor shortage has left businesses struggling to find staff, despite offering higher wages. Salaries have been on the rise, supporting consumer spending even amid rampant inflation. In February, the pace of price increases matched a level not seen in 40 years, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data.

The strong labor market, where many workers who quit move on to jobs with better pay or benefits, stands at odds with consumers’ worries about rising prices.

In March, US consumer confidence ticked higher following declines at the start of 2022, data from The Conference Board showed Tuesday.

That’s a promising sign that the economy continued to grow in the first three months of the year, said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board.

But there are dark clouds on the horizon.

“Expectations… weakened further with consumers citing rising prices, especially at the gas pump, and the war in Ukraine as factors,” Franco said. “Meanwhile, purchasing intentions for big-ticket items like automobiles have softened somewhat over the past few months as expectations for interest rates have risen.”

Inflation warning: It’s going to get even worse, says UNC economist

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.