CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. job market stumbled a bit in January, yet data released Thursday suggests the slowdown was likely temporary.
Total hiring fell sharply that month, the Labor Department said, and the number of people quitting their jobs also dropped.
Yet businesses posted more open jobs, a sign they are still interested in bringing more workers on board, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS.
And in a separate report, the number of people seeking unemployment aid ticked up but remained at a very low level. Applications for unemployment benefits are a proxy for layoffs, so those figures indicate that companies are cutting few jobs. That suggests they remain confident enough in the economy to hold onto their workers.
Job openings jumped 4.9 percent to 5.5 million in January, the most since July, the Labor Department said. And weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000.
Applications have remained below 300,000, a historically low level, for 54 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1973.
Total hiring, meanwhile, fell 6.9 percent to 5 million. And the number of people who quit their jobs dropped from just over 3 million in December to 2.8 million in January.
Quits are a sign of confidence in the job market, and can also lead to higher pay, because most Americans leave a job for a higher-paying position.
The figures are an echo of previous data that showed the job gains slowed in January, likely in part because of harsh winter weather.
Net hiring, as reported in the separate monthly jobs report, fell in January before rebounding in February. The JOLTS data includes raw hiring figures, which are offset by quits, layoffs and retirements to produce the net data.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has said she watches the quits and hiring data closely for additional signs of the job market’s health.
The Fed decided to keep the short-term rate it controls unchanged after a two-day meeting Wednesday, after raising it for the first time in nearly a decade in December.
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