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Companies pulled back on job postings in April

WASHINGTON — U.S. businesses advertised fewer jobs in April than the previous month, a sign that hiring could remain weak in the coming months.

Employers posted 3 million job openings, down from 3.1 million from March, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Job openings have been stuck at about 3 million for three months.

Job growth slowed sharply in May, according to the monthly employment report released Friday. Employers added a net total of only 54,000 positions in May, down from an average of 220,000 per month in each of the previous three months. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent from 9 percent. That report raised concerns among many analysts that without more jobs, the economy will remain anemic for much of this year.

Openings fell across most sectors in the economy. There were fewer positions advertised in education and health care, at hotels and restaurants, and with professional and business services — accountants, engineers and legal services. Job openings rose in retail and construction.

Tuesday’s report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, suggests that the pace of hiring won’t pick up anytime soon. Companies can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months to fill a job opening.

April’s figure is much higher than the 2.1 million job openings posted in July 2009, one month after the recession ended and the lowest total since records began a decade ago. But it is also significantly below the 4.4 million openings recorded in December 2007, when the recession began.

There were 4.6 unemployed people, on average, competing for each available job in April. That’s higher than the 4.3 ratio in March and far above the ratio of 2 to 1 that economists consider healthy.

The report shows that the job market has a long way to go to return to healthy levels. Even if all the open positions were filled, there would still be about 10.7 million unemployed people. That compares to the 7.7 million who were unemployed when the recession began.