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UPDATE 1-U.S. hirings fall in Feb, but job market turning

(Adds analyst comment, background)

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Reuters) - U.S. job openings and hirings fell in February, according to government data on Tuesday that is unlikely, however, to change perceptions a labor market recovery is underway.

Job openings slipped 131,000 to 2.72 million, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The job openings rate, a gauge of how many jobs were still open at the end of the month, dipped to 2.1 percent from 2.2 percent in January.

However, the report has been overtaken by government data last Friday that showed employers, led by the private sector, created 162,000 jobs in March, the highest in three years.

The labor market, slammed by the worst recession since the 1930s, is starting to turn as employers grow a bit more confident in the economic recovery. The recession struck in December 2007 and the economy has grown since the third quarter of 2009.

With 14.9 million people unemployed in February, there were 5.5 workers for every job opening that month, according to Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

“This remains a significant improvement over the high of 6.2 job seekers per job opening last November, but is still nearly twice as high as the worst month of the early 2000’s recession, when there were 2.8 job seekers per job opening in September of 2003,” said Shierholz.

Hirings fell to 3.96 million from 4.09 million, leaving the rate of hiring at 3.1 percent from 3.2 percent in January, the department said.

“The good news is that layoffs are down to where they were before the recession and hiring is no longer declining. The bad news is that hiring is nowhere near the levels required to put this country’s 15 million jobless workers back to work,” said Shierholz.

Despite the slip in February, there is anecdotal evidence that hiring is picking up in some sectors of the economy.

A survey by workforce management company Kronos Inc showed a substantial increase in retail hiring in March. The survey also noted a continued rise in employee retention. In the 12 months to March, employees were 6.01 percent more likely to have a length of service of 60 days or more, Kronos said. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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