In October, the ‘Now Hiring’ signs weren’t as plentiful as they have been in recent years, and more workers chose to stay put.

There were an estimated 8.7 million available jobs in the month, according to data released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are an estimated 1.3 jobs available for every unemployed person, BLS data shows.

That’s the lowest number job openings seen during a month since March 2021 and is further evidence of a cooling US labor market, according to the BLS’ October Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey report.

October’s tally is significantly lower than the record 12.03 million positions hit in March 2022, and the figure is approaching the roughly 7 million openings seen pre-pandemic.

The US labor market’s freewheeling days — massive job growth, plentiful opportunities and workers jumping ship for greener pastures — appear to be coming to an end.

“Now we’re starting to head back to levels that are truly consistent with what you would call a cooling labor market,” Karin Kimbrough, chief economist with online job site LinkedIn, told CNN.

After two consecutive months of JOLTS surprising to the upside, the latest job openings total came in well under expectations. Economists’ forecasts called for the October postings to hit 9.3 million, according to Refinitiv consensus estimates.

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Employers, employees more cautious

The Federal Reserve has been hoping to see more slack in the labor market to help in the central bank’s fight to bring down inflation. When there’s an imbalance in the supply and demand for workers, it could cause wages to rise and, in turn, prompt companies to raise prices.

In recent months, job gains have gradually eased, with the US adding only 150,000 jobs in October — the second-lowest monthly tally notched since 2021.

“I think this reflects some caution on the part of employers,” Kimbrough said. “They’ve had a cautious stance in terms of hiring, but you can see it now in terms of the job openings aren’t coming in as fast as before.”

Most industries saw a pullback in the number of available jobs, with some of the sharpest decreases in openings coming in the financial activities and retail industries.

Other measurements of labor turnover are showing a loosening in the labor market, according to Tuesday’s JOLTS report: The number of new hires dipped to 5.89 million from 5.9 million; quits fell to 3.63 million from 3.65 million; and layoffs ticked up to 1.64 million from 1.61 million.

While the monthly estimates can be quite volatile, economists have been closely watching how quits have trended, as they serve as a measurement of employees’ ease and willingness to leave their jobs.

Fewer people voluntarily quitting their jobs could indicate that people are feeling less secure about the economy and signal that a further cooling of wage growth is ahead.

Employees appear to be choosing to stay with the employer and job they know and starting to “shelter in place” a bit more, Kimbrough said.

“[Employees are] reading the room; they recognize that they might be better off to dance with the one that brought you,” she said. “They’re definitely uncertain, and this uncertainty is actually starting to match the cautious stance that employers were already taking.”

She added: “Workers are also realizing that this is a different economy.”

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More jobs data to come

The net job gains estimated in the monthly jobs report (due out Friday) can mask some of the gross hiring and separations that occur on a monthly basis. As such, Tuesday’s JOLTS report helps to provide a fuller picture of the hiring activity, Wells Fargo economists Sarah House and Michael Pugliese wrote Tuesday.

“The hiring rate has declined from its pandemic peak in a sign that demand for new workers has softened, and the hiring boom needed to replace departing workers has slowed,” they wrote.

The consensus estimate is for the US economy to have added 180,000 jobs last month, according to Refinitiv. That net gain, which is in line with the strong job growth seen pre-pandemic, is well below the breakneck pace of job gains seen during the past three years.

Tuesday’s JOLTS report is the first entrant in a slew of labor market reports due out this week, including the latest data on private-sector hiring, jobless claims, job cuts and culminating with the November jobs report on Friday.

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