WASHINGTON — The number of job seekers competing for each opening has reached the highest point since the recession began, according to government data released Friday.
The employment crisis is expected to worsen as companies stay reluctant to hire. Many economists expect a jobless recovery, putting pressure on President Obama and congressional Democrats to stimulate job creation.
There are about 6.3 unemployed workers competing, on average, for each job opening, a Labor Department report shows. That's the most since the department began tracking job openings nine years ago, and up from only 1.7 workers when the recession began in December 2007.
The highest point after the 2001 recession was 2.8 workers per opening in July 2003, as the economy suffered through a jobless recovery.
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Employers have cut a net total of 7.2 million jobs during the downturn. While layoffs are slowing, Friday's report shows the other critical piece of a labor market recovery — hiring — has yet to begin.
"Fewer people are facing job loss," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at Economic Policy Institute in Washington, "but once you have lost your job, you are in serious trouble."
The department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey found less than 2.4 million openings in August, the latest data available. That may seem like a lot of jobs, but it's down from 3.7 million a year ago and half its peak in June 2007. It's also the lowest tally on nine years of government records.
At the same time, the number of unemployed Americans doubled from the beginning of the recession to 14.9 million in August.
Economists fear the job market will take years to recover.
Shierholz said the economy faces a "jobs gap" of almost 10 million — the 7.2 million jobs lost plus the roughly 125,000 per month that would have been needed since the recession began just to keep up with population growth.
To close that gap and get back to pre-recession levels in two years would require more than 500,000 new jobs per month, a pace of job creation that hasn't been seen since 1950-51, Shierholz said.