The unemployment rate—now 5.7%, compared to 10% in October 2009—is one measure of how well the economy is rebounding. But labor economists often note that the unemployment rate is something of a statistical blunt instrument that fails to capture the nuances of what’s really happening in the job market.
Economists increasingly turn to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) to spotlight the detail in the broader employment picture.
JOLTS is a survey of employers who are asked about their employment activity in the past month. Responses are grouped into three main categories—job openings, hires and separations, which includes layoffs as well as people quitting voluntarily.
One of the key data points in the JOLTS report: The ratio between the number of unemployed people and job openings. At the height of the recession in 2009, there were nearly seven unemployed individuals for every job opening. That number has come down dramatically—to 1.7 people for every job opening, in line with pre-recession numbers. Result: As the ratio declines, employers start competing for good workers, not the other way around.
Read the monthly JOLTS report—it typically comes out around the 10th.