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U.S. Job Openings Remain At A Historic High, Giving Job Seekers Options

Job openings remained at a historic high in May, more evidence that workers are in high demand as the economy bounces back from the pandemic.

Openings reached 9.2 million, according to the Labor Department, about what they were a month earlier. They're about 30% higher than they were in February 2020, right before the pandemic.

While the May numbers remain little changed since April, there were some declines in job openings in certain sectors such as real estate, warehouses and transportation. Other sectors, meanwhile, continue to face staffing shortages.

Job openings in restaurants and hotels were slightly higher in May, while the number of people quitting jobs in those places also inched up, to just over 700,000. Overall, 3.6 million people quit their jobs in May. That's down from a record 4 million in April but still a high level of turnover.

"This report isn't quite the barn burner of last month, but the data do suggest that demand for workers is still very strong," writes Nick Bunker, director of research at the Indeed Hiring Lab. "The outlook for hiring remains bright."

At the Baker's Table in Newport, Ky., chef and owner David Willocks managed to hire three people in the last 14 days. He's breathing a sigh of relief after a tumultuous 16 months during which he had to bring on two family members and a chef friend from California to keep his restaurant going. In recent months, job postings that normally would have generated three to six applications were met with silence.

The Baker's Table in Newport, Ky., saw a near complete turnover of its staff in the pandemic. Only the bar manager, the baker and the nighttime dishwasher have stayed on.
/ David Willocks
David Willocks
The Baker's Table in Newport, Ky., saw a near complete turnover of its staff in the pandemic. Only the bar manager, the baker and the nighttime dishwasher have stayed on.

But Willocks has found a silver lining in all of this. He says the workers who are showing up really want to be there. The pandemic gave them opportunities to evaluate their priorities and reimagine their lives — and they have decided that his restaurant is where they want to work.

"So we've got drastically less applicants, but I've found that we've actually hired better people," he says.

Still, in this labor market, Willocks knows he has to stay competitive. Even before the pandemic, he paid a starting wage of $14 an hour for kitchen jobs, almost twice the minimum wage. Just in the past week, he introduced a profit-based bonus system for managers, so that busy nights will pay rewards. He wants to be sure members of his team see his restaurant as a place where they can grow.

Even with his new hires, Willocks' staffing challenges aren't over. Later this summer, he'll be looking to bring on another four or five people for a new bakery he's planning to open in the fall.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.
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