More Americans quit jobs, sign of confidence

More Americans are quitting their jobs, suggesting many are growing more confident in the job market, a government report showed Tuesday.

Most workers quit their jobs when they have a new position or feel confident that they can find one quickly. And when they do, it opens up more opportunities for other Americans, including the unemployed.

A second report said U.S. wholesalers increased their stockpiles in April and their sales rebounded from a big decline in March, positive signs for economic growth.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that the number of people who quit their jobs in April jumped 7.2 percent to 2.25 million. That’s just below February’s level, which was the highest in 4½ years.

Overall hiring also picked up in April, though not as dramatically. Employers filled 4.4 million jobs in April, a 5 percent increase from March. Hiring fell in March and April’s level was below February’s.

The report offered a reminder that the job market is far from healthy. The number of available jobs slipped 3 percent to a seasonally adjusted 3.75 million. Openings had reached a five-year high in February and remain nearly 7 percent higher than a year ago.

The job market remains very competitive for those looking for work. There were 3.1 unemployed workers, on average, for each open job in April. In a healthy economy, the ratio is 2 to 1.

Still, the growth in hiring and quits provides more evidence of a dynamic job market that is making slow but steady strides. It follows Friday’s May employment report, which showed the economy added a net 175,000 net jobs last month. That’s roughly in line with the average monthly gain over the past two years.

The report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, provides the total number of people hired and laid off each month. It’s different from the department’s monthly jobs report, which provides each month’s net job gain or loss and the unemployment rate. By quantifying total hiring and layoffs, the JOLTS report paints a fuller picture of what employers are doing.

For example, for the past two years net job gains have averaged about 180,000 per month. But much of that gain reflects a decline in layoffs, rather than more overall hiring.

Layoffs in January fell to the lowest level on records dating back to 2001. They have since increased slightly but are still below pre-recession levels.

Fed officials and economists want to see overall hiring pick up because it would indicate businesses are confident enough to add more workers.

Despite April’s increases, overall hiring and quits are still below pre-recession figures. Total hiring topped 5 million in most months before the recession began in December 2007. That’s 14 percent higher than April’s level.

Monthly quits were typically around 2.8 million before the recession. That’s 24 percent higher than April.

The Commerce Department said that stockpiles at the wholesale level rose 0.2 percent in April. That followed a 0.3 percent gain in March.

Sales in April increased 0.5 percent, the best showing since February. In March, sales had plunged 1.4 percent.

The April increase left stockpiles at the wholesale level at $504.8 billion. That’s up 4.1 percent from a year ago and 31.2 percent above the recession low.

An increase in restocking can drive more economic growth. It means companies are ordering more goods from U.S. factories.

April’s gain was led by a 1.9 percent increase in restocking of autos and auto parts. Stockpiles of furniture, lumber and computer equipment also posted solid gains.

Inventories of machinery, farm products and chemicals were down in April.

The economy grew at a 2.4 percent rate annual from January through March, up from a 0.4 percent rate in the previous quarter.

Growth accelerated in the first quarter largely because consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in more than two years. That also provided more incentive for businesses to restock their shelves after many cut back on inventory building at the end of last year.

Many economists believe growth has slowed in the current April-June quarter to an annual rate of 2 percent or less. Economists say part of that reflects a slowdown in production at U.S. factories, stemming from weakness overseas that has dampened demand for U.S. exports. Some economists also say businesses could be worried about the impact of federal spending cuts.

A stronger job market has helped offset some of the weakness from the spending cuts and higher taxes.