Employers Offer More Jobs in February; Small-Biz Owners More Optimistic

The number of job openings at the end of February was 3.9 million, up from 3.6 million in January, which is the highest monthly number since May 2008. And March saw job growth in the small-business sector for the fourth consecutive month.

The Tuesday after the monthly unemployment report means JOLTS, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t disappoint this Tuesday. According to the report – the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey — the number of U.S. job openings at the end of February was 3.9 million, up from 3.6 million January. That’s the highest monthly number of job openings since May 2008, and more evidence that February was a good hiring month (March probably won’t see this kind of movement, however).

For the month, the number of openings rose in health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, and state and local government, according to the BLS. For the 12 months ending in February, the number of number of job openings increased for construction, finance and insurance, accommodation and food services, and state and local government.

The number of quits rose over the 12 months ending in February, from about 1.6 million to 1.8 million. Quits are voluntary separations initiated by the employee, and stand as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to leave jobs. When the economy is really bad, fewer people naturally want to quit on their own accord.

Small Business Owners More Optimistic

The National Federation of Independent Businesses said on Tuesday that its Index of Small Business Optimism ended its previous slow, three-month climb by declining 1.3 points in March, finishing at 89.5. In the 44 months of economic expansion since the technical beginning of the recovery in July 2009, the index has averaged 90.7, putting the March reading a little below the mean for the period.

Although overall job creation was sluggish in March, job creation in the small-business sector was perhaps the only bright spot in the March report, according to the organization. The month saw the fourth consecutive month of positive job growth, with owners reporting increasing employment at an average of 0.19 workers per firm. That’s the best monthly reading NFIB has recorded in a year.

Another good sign from the report: a much smaller number of small-business owners said that weak sales – that is, lack of demand for their product or service – as their top problem. During the worst of the recession and its aftermath, demand was persistently weak for small businesses. When the economy is better, small business owners return to a more normal pattern of kvetching about taxes and regulations, and sure enough taxes were cited as the top problem in March.

Wall Street had another up day on Tuesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 59.98 points, or 0.41 percent. The S&P 500 was positive to the tune of 0.35 percent, and the Nasdaq was up 0.48 percent.