Fake jobs hide cooler reality for US workforce

A pedestrian passes a "Help Wanted" sign in the door of a hardware store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., July 8, 2022.
A pedestrian passes a "Help Wanted" sign in the door of a hardware store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., July 8, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters Breakingviews) - U.S. economic data is telling two different stories. Still-high job openings suggest demand for workers remains unusually strong. Yet technology layoffs and easing wage growth point to weaker hiring. With listings for positions that don’t exist, dubbed ghost jobs, and stale postings complicating the monthly openings count, the latter signal is probably closer to reality.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 9.9 million job openings in February on Tuesday, still up 42% from the last pre-pandemic reading. The true count is probably lower. Unique job postings collected from hundreds of websites have fallen back to early 2020 levels, according to ZipRecruiter.

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Fake listings might be skewing the government’s count. Nearly half of hiring managers said they left job openings up to give the impression their firm was growing, small-business lender Clarify Capital found in a summer survey. More than a quarter said they simply forgot to delete a stale opening.

The discrepancy matters, since a still-elevated count probably worries the Federal Reserve, which views strong labor demand as a major contributor to inflation. As the central bank continues to fight rising prices, it should try not to take fright from a statistical ghost. (By Ben Winck)

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are their own.)

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