WASHINGTON Job openings declined modestly in September from the prior month, government data showed on Tuesday, while the job openings rate dipped.
Job openings, a measure of labor demand, fell 163,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.9 million, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. August job openings were downwardly revised to 3.1 million.
In September, the job openings rate -- a gauge of how many jobs were still open at the end of the month -- fell to 2.2 percent from 2.3 percent in August.
Both the rate of new hires and the separations rate were 3.2 percent, unchanged from August, the Labor Department.
Although the number of job openings decreased in September compared with the prior month, they were 25 percent higher than the trough in July 2009, just as the worst U.S. recession in decades was ending, the Labor Department said.
"Overall, we attribute the slight decline in the headline job openings rate to monthly volatility in the series rather than a change in the underlying trend," said Barclays Capital analyst Theresa Chen in a research note.
"Looking at the broad path of job openings, labor conditions have clearly improved over the past few quarters, and we expect this trend to continue."
In September, 4.2 million people were hired, 9 percent more than the June 2009 low. The number of hires was still lower than at the start of the recession in December 2007, when 5 million people were hired, the department said.
The rate of people who quit their jobs, which can serve as a measure of workers' willingness or ability to change jobs, was little changed in September at 1.6 percent for total nonfarm payrolls and 1.8 percent for private employers, the report said.
The layoffs and discharges level was essentially unchanged in September for total nonfarm and total private payrolls but fell slightly for government.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Andrea Ricci)