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Employers posted solid job openings before virus shutdowns

April 7, 2020 GMT
A sign advertising hiring is posted outside the HoneyBaked store in Rolling Meadows, Ill., Friday, April 3, 2020. Employers are still hiring during coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
A sign advertising hiring is posted outside the HoneyBaked store in Rolling Meadows, Ill., Friday, April 3, 2020. Employers are still hiring during coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers posted a healthy number of job openings in February, evidence that the job market was in decent shape before the viral outbreak brought the economy to a near standstill.

The report, released by the Labor Department Tuesday, is largely an artifact from the pre-virus era, before nearly 90% of the U.S. population was subject to shutdown orders. Job postings have likely plummeted since February and layoffs have soared.

The number of available jobs fell modestly in February to 6.9 million, down from 7 million in January, the government said. There were still more open positions than unemployed people, a once-rare situation that prevailed for two years until the coronavirus struck.

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That trend is coming to an end. The job listings website Indeed said that openings on its website were down nearly 25% last week compared with a year earlier.

And nearly 10 million Americans lost their jobs in the second half of March and sought unemployment benefits, likely pushing the unemployment rate above 10% when the Labor Department issues the April jobs report in early May.

Last week, the government’s March employment figures showed that the economy lost 701,000 jobs last month, the most in more than a decade. Still, that figure was held down by the fact that the government compiled the numbers from a survey of payrolls in the middle of the month, before the flood of layoffs occurred. The unemployment rate jumped to 4.4% from 3.5% in March, the largest one-month increase since 1975.

The job market has nearly collapsed with head-snapping speed. In February, the unemployment rate matched a 50-year low and more than a quarter-million jobs were added. But job losses soared at a record pace after restaurants, gyms, shops, and casinos closed across much of the country.

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