U.S. businesses posted fewer open jobs in February than the previous month when openings reached a record level, though layoffs fell.
The Labor Department said Friday that openings fell 2.8 percent to 6.05 million, down from 6.23 million in January, the most on record dating back to 2001. Layoffs dropped a steep 7.7 percent, to 1.65 million.
The figures suggest a healthy job market tilting in favor of job seekers. There are nearly as many job openings as there are unemployed people. Businesses have complained they can't fill jobs, and many are feeling pressure to raise pay to attract and keep workers.
There are now just 1.08 unemployed people, on average, for every available job. When the Great Recession ended, there were 6.7 people out of work for every opening.
The shortage of available workers is also likely why companies are laying off relatively few people. Job cuts topped 2.5 million a month in early 2009, at the depths of the recession. That's roughly 50 percent higher than February's total.
The figures, from the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, add color to the government's monthly jobs report. In February that report showed that employers added a net total of 326,000 jobs, the most in 18 months.
Yet overall hiring slipped that month, from 5.6 million, to 5.5 million, the JOLTS report shows. That means the big net gain mostly reflected the drop in job cuts.
As the supply of unemployed dwindles, companies are also pulling some workers who had given up on their job hunts off the sidelines. The proportion of Americans in their prime working years — aged 25 to 54 — who are working or looking for work has increased in the past year.
And fewer Americans are citing disability as a reason for not working, according to research by Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at ISI Evercore.
Even so, hiring nationwide may slow as unemployment declines, if companies are unable to fill jobs. Net job gains slowed to 103,000 in March.