WASHINGTON — Job openings rose in several sectors of the U.S. economy in February, including retail, manufacturing, transportation, restaurants and hotels, the Labor Department said Tuesday.
The report is consistent with other surveys showing hiring is picking up in those areas. It also echoes last week's national employment report, which showed broad job gains in March.
Total job openings, meanwhile, declined in February, the department said. That's a sign that hiring remains sluggish even though employers are starting to add workers as they gain more confidence that the recovery is taking hold.
The government's Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey illustrates the churn that takes place in the job market, even when hiring is weak. Employers posted 2.7 million job openings at the end of February. That was about 130,000 fewer than in the previous month. But it still exceeded the record lows of 2.4 million last year.
"Generally, you're moving in the right direction on job openings," said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase. But "as today's numbers remind us, it's not a straight line up."
Retailers listed 320,000 openings, up from 255,000 the previous month, the department said. Manufacturers posted 17,000 more openings. Restaurants and hotels have added nearly 50,000 in the past two months.
The economy created 162,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said last week. Yet the unemployment rate remained stuck at 9.7 percent as the number of people looking for work rose.
Other surveys also point to job gains. The Conference Board said last week that online job postings have risen by about 650,000 in the past five months to more than 3.9 million.
In another positive sign, a retail hiring index compiled by Kronos Inc. showed that retailers boosted hiring by 9 percent in March to the highest level since the fall of 2008. Kronos provides scheduling, payroll and other work force management software and services. The company's index covers 68 companies with 27,000 retail locations.
Transportation, warehousing and utilities companies are also adding a jobs, the Labor Department said. That sector posted 64,000 job openings in February, about two-thirds higher than a year ago. Figures for that sector aren't seasonally adjusted.
On Friday, the department said transportation and warehousing gained 7,800 jobs in March. That was the most since September 2007, before the recession began.
"That's a good sign that we're moving more freight and goods," said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at IHS Global Insight.
Echo Global Logistics Inc., a supply management company, said Tuesday that it will open a new sales office in Dallas. The Dallas office will initially be staffed by 10-12 new hires and will add 30-40 new hires over the next year, the company said in a statement.
Automaker BMW Manufacturing Co., meanwhile, said last week that it plans to hire about 200 temporary production and logistics workers at its Greer, South Carolina, plant. The plant makes BMW's X5 and X6 models and will begin production of the X3 later this year.
Still, about 14.8 million people were jobless in February. That's nearly double the total from before the recession began in December 2007. It means about 5.5 people, on average, are competing for each available job. That's higher than in January, but down from the record 6.2 reached in November. Only 1.8 people, on average, were competing for each opening in December 2007.
The Labor Department's report also showed that layoffs declined sharply in February. They fell to 1.8 million from 1.95 million in January. Layoffs have fallen back to pre-recession levels, but job openings are recovering more slowly. Job openings remain about 40 percent below their pre-recession levels of about 4.5 million.
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