For those following the recent sharp drop in job openings, or perhaps merely fascinated by the narrative that AI will cause a margin-busting corporate revolution as millions of mid-level employees are replaced by a cheap "bullshitting" AI algorithm, then today's latest bizarro JOLTS report will come as a shock. That's because after three months of sharp declines, the BLS reported that in April the number of job openings soared by 358K from an upward revised 9.7 million to 10.1 million, the biggest increase since Dec 2022...
.... and printing not only above the median consensus which expected the trend to continue with 9.4 million job openings this month, but came higher than the highest Wall Street estimate! As shown in the chart below, the delta to median consensus print was a whopping 703K.
According to the BLS, the biggest increase in job openings was in retail trade (+209,000); health care and social assistance (+185,000); and transportation, warehousing, and utilities (+154,000)
The sudden, bizarre reversal in the job openings trend, meant that after falling to the lowest level since Sept 2021, in April the number of job openings was 4.446 million more than the number of unemployed workers, the highest since January.
Said otherwise, after dropping to just 1.64 job openings for every unemployed worker, the lowest since Nov 2021, in April there were 1.79 openings for every worker, a sharp spike back to levels that the Fed does not want to see.
To be sure, none of the above data are credible for reasons we have discussed before but the simplest one is because the response rate of the JOLTS survey is stuck at a record low 31%. Which means that only those who actually have job openings to report do so, while two-thirds of employers are either non-responsive or their mail is quietly lost in the mail.
Another reason why today's data is meaningless is that even as employers allegedly put up many more job wanted signs, the number of workers actually quitting their jobs - a proxy for those who believe they can get a better-paying job elsewhere, and thus strength of the overall job market - tumbled by 129K to 3.8 million, the lowest number since May 2021.
Even the Fed's WSJ mouthpiece Nick Timiraos ignored the stellar headline print, and instead focused on the plunge in quits, writing that the "rate of workers who are voluntarily leaving their jobs (including leisure and hospitality) is returning closer to pre-pandemic levels, a possible sign of less tight labor markets. Quits tend to rise when workers think they can receive better pay by changing jobs."
The rate of workers who are voluntarily leaving their jobs (including leisure and hospitality) is returning closer to pre-pandemic levels, a possible sign of less tight labor markets— Nick Timiraos (@NickTimiraos) May 31, 2023
Quits tend to rise when workers think they can receive better pay by changing jobs. pic.twitter.com/hAEAMy1I81
And the biggest paradox: as pointed out by Peter Tchir of Academy Securities, the seasonally adjusted JOLTS quits rate was 2.4 (we reached a "peak" of 2.4 in July 2019), while the Hires rate (also seasonally adjusted) was 3.9% just like it was 3.9 in July 2019. So allegedly there are 3,000,000 more jobs available now than then.
So what to make of this bizarro, conflicting report?
Well, after three months of drops in job openings, at a time when it is especially critical for Biden to still maintain the illusion that at least the labor market remains strong when everything else in the senile president's economy is crashing and burning, it appears that the BLS got a tap on the shoulder once again, especially when considering that the one category that will be most impacted by ChatGPT and which according to Indeed is seeing a collapse in job postings was also the one category that had the highest number of job openings.