WASHINGTON — U.S. employers posted more job openings in June, a sign that hiring could improve a bit in the coming months.
The Labor Department said Wednesday that the number of available jobs rose to 3.1 million, up from 3 million in May. It was the highest total since March.
Still, roughly 4.5 unemployed people, on average, were competing for each available job in June. That’s down only slightly from 4.6 in May. In a healthy economy, the ratio is about 2 to 1.
June’s total number of openings was higher than the 2.1 million posted in July 2009, one month after the recession officially ended and the lowest total since the government began recording the data a decade ago. But it is also significantly below the 4.4 million openings in December 2007, when the recession began.
Job openings haven’t come close to healthy levels since the start of the downturn. The weak economy is unlikely to produce many more in the second half of the year.
The economy expanded at just a 0.8 percent annual rate in the first six months of this year, the slowest since the recession officially ended in June 2009. In June, consumers cut spending for the first time in 20 months and saved more.
Companies have reduced hiring in recent months. Employers added an average of only 72,000 jobs per month from May through July, after creating an average of 215,000 jobs per month in the preceding three months.
The unemployment rate ticked down to 9.1 percent last month. Still, it has been above 9 percent in all but two months since the recession ended.
The Federal Reserve on Tuesday offered a dim outlook for the economy, saying it expects growth will stay weak for two more years. As a result, the Fed said it would likely keep the short-term interest rate near zero at least through mid-2013.
The move could hold down interest rates on mortgages, car loans and business loans. Lower rates may also support stock prices, since bonds are likely to make less money.
The market rallied after the Fed announcement. The Dow Jones industrial average closed 429 points higher. But on Wednesday, stocks tumbled and the Dow erased nearly all of those gains. Many investors are nervous that the U.S. economy could be on the verge of another recession.