WASHINGTON — U.S. employers posted fewer job openings in March compared with February and slowed overall hiring, underscoring a weak month of job growth.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings fell 1.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted 3.8 million jobs. Total hiring declined 4.3 percent to 4.3 million.
The unemployed faced heavy competition in March. There were 3.1 unemployed people, on average, for each job opening. That’s above the ratio of 2 to 1 that is typical in a healthy economy.
On Friday the government reported that employers added just 138,000 net jobs in March, well below February’s 332,000. Tuesday’s report shows that the slowdown occurred because gross hiring fell and layoffs increased.
Job growth picked up in April. The economy added 165,000 net jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent from 7.6 percent in March.
April’s gain, along with sharp upward revisions to the totals for February and March, suggests that the job market is improving steadily. Employers have now added an average of 208,000 jobs per month from November through April. That’s much higher than the average of 138,000 in the previous six months.
Half of the decline in March’s job postings was because governments at all levels advertised fewer positions. Most occurred at the federal level, which was affected by across-the-board spending cuts that began on March 1. The federal government reduced job openings by 30 percent in March compared with February.
Construction firms, manufacturers, and health care providers also advertised fewer positions.
Retailers, hotels and restaurants, and entertainment firms were the only major industries to post more job openings in March compared with the previous month.
Layoffs rose for the second straight month to 1.69 million, after falling in January to the lowest level since records began 12 years ago. Despite the increase, layoffs are still running below pre-recession levels.
Companies have posted more jobs but are slow to fill them. Many employers have become more selective and cautious about hiring since the recession. Some may not be offering enough pay to attract the candidates they need. Other companies, particularly in information technology and manufacturing, say they can’t find enough qualified workers.
In the past two years, openings have increased nearly 24 percent. But overall hiring has occurred at less than half that rate.