By PETER S. GOODMAN
Published: September 26, 2009
Despite signs that the economy has resumed growing, unemployed Americans now confront a job market that is bleaker than ever in the current recession, and employment prospects are still getting worse.
Job seekers now outnumber openings six to one, the worst ratio since the government began tracking open positions in 2000. According to the Labor Department’s latest numbers, from July, only 2.4 million full-time permanent jobs were open, with 14.5 million people officially unemployed.
And even though the pace of layoffs is slowing, many companies remain anxious about growth prospects in the months ahead, making them reluctant to add to their payrolls.
“There’s too much uncertainty out there,” said Thomas A. Kochan, a labor economist at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. “There’s not going to be an upsurge in job openings for quite a while, not until employers feel confident the economy is really growing.”
The dearth of jobs reflects the caution of many American businesses when no one knows what will emerge to propel the economy. With unemployment at 9.7 percent nationwide, the shortage of paychecks is both a cause and an effect of weak hiring.
Even after companies regain an inclination to expand, they will probably not hire aggressively anytime soon. Experts say that so many businesses have pared back working hours for people on their payrolls, while eliminating temporary workers, that many can increase output simply by increasing the workload on existing employees.
“They have tons of room to increase work without hiring a single person,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute Economist. “For people who are out of work, we do not see signs of light at the end of the tunnel.”
Though layoffs have been both severe and prominent, the greatest source of distress is a predilection against hiring by many American businesses. From the beginning of the recession in December 2007 through July of this year, job openings declined 45 percent in the West and the South, 36 percent in the Midwest and 23 percent in the Northeast.
Shrinking job opportunities have assailed virtually every industry this year. Since the end of 2008, job openings have diminished 47 percent in manufacturing, 37 percent in construction and 22 percent in retail. Even in education and health services — faster-growing areas in which many unemployed people have trained for new careers — job openings have dropped 21 percent this year. Despite the passage of a stimulus spending package aimed at shoring up state and local coffers, government job openings have diminished 17 percent this year.