Business Monday

New jobs data will put focus on the ‘help wanted’ gap

American companies are still hiring, or at least looking to hire. But increasingly, companies are not finding people to fill the jobs. Call it the “help wanted” gap.

When it comes to measuring employment, new job creation is important, but ask someone out of work if it matters if a job opportunity is a brand-new position or just a vacant one. To those looking for work or looking for better pay, a newly created job versus an empty job is a distinction without a difference.

There are thousands more job openings than people being hired. This comes from the same agency that produces the monthly jobs report with its headline unemployment rate and new job creation figures. Instead of examining how many new jobs were created, the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) focuses on how many job openings there are in the economy.

And there are a lot — 5.7 million in February, near a record high. There were about a half-million more openings than people hired that month. The March data are due to be released on Tuesday. For more than two years now, there have been more job openings each month than job hires.

The imbalance of having more job openings than hires should argue for wage growth. With companies struggling to fill jobs, they may be forced to increase wages and benefits to attract candidates.

This is a job-hunters’ market, but not for everyone. Healthcare, hospitality and professional service job openings have remained strong while retail job opportunities have slowed.

These trends highlight massive forces playing out in the U.S. economy, such as aging and internet commerce. A widening and persistent help-wanted gap threatens future economic growth if job seekers aren’t prepared to fill it.

Financial journalist Tom Hudson hosts “The Sunshine Economy” on WLRN-FM in Miami. Follow him on Twitter @HudsonsView.