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How job openings are measured

Recent trends and a short history of job openings data from the BLS

The number of jobs openings is one of the main economic indicators that economists consider when trying to evaluate the health of the economy. The FRED graph above shows job openings data since 2000: There’s been an upward trend from 2010 all the way to February 2020. Job openings dropped during the pandemic but picked up and increased significantly from late 2020 through 2022.

The way these data are collected reflects how the world has evolved over time: From 1951 to 2008, the Conference Board produced a Help-Wanted Advertising Index of print advertisements that measured the change in help-wanted classified ads from 51 major US newspapers. This index was arguably one of the most important at the time, as it helped economists measure the efficiency of the job-matching process. However, as the world moves from print to digital media and the loss in newspaper readership continues, data-collection methods also must change.

Nowadays, the job openings data come from “JOLTS,” which is the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data are from a sample of around 21,000 US business establishments, and job openings include all positions that are open on the last business day of the reference month.

For a job to be considered “open,” it has to meet three conditions. One of them is that the employer must be actively recruiting workers from outside the establishment to fill the position. According to the BLS website, this may involve “advertising in newspapers, on television, or on radio; posting Internet notices; posting “help wanted” signs; networking with colleagues or making “word of mouth” announcements.”

How this graph was created: Search for “job openings” on FRED and the series should be among the top choices.

Suggested by Praew Grittayaphong and Paulina Restrepo-Echavarria.

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