The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor is the principal Federal agency responsible for measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.
E M P L O Y M E N T A N D U N E M P L O Y M E N T
Exploring labor market trends through
JOLTS firm-size data
By Charlotte Oslund
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) program provides data about
job openings, hires, and separations in the United States. Studying these numbers yields insights into where the
business cycle and labor market might be headed. This article identifies key trends at the total private-sector level
and then uses new experimental estimates grouped by firm size to examine the trends more closely and gain
August 2018 | Vol. 7 / No. 13
U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
Trends at the total private level
Chart 1 provides JOLTS data along with employment figures from the Current Employment Statistics program.
Many interesting trends are apparent at the total private level. For example, we can see that going into the Great
Recession of 2007–09, job openings, hires, and quits began to decline well before the start of the recession.
We also see that for most of the months since December 2000, when JOLTS began publishing, hires have
outnumbered job openings. However, the series converged in mid-2014, and by January 2016, job openings
surpassed hires. Since JOLTS measures hires throughout the entire reference month but counts job openings only
on the last business day of the month, it is noteworthy when job openings outnumber hires.
In addition, it appears that firms held off on increasing layoffs until well into the recession, and quickly reduced
layoffs as soon as possible: Layoffs and discharges did not start to rise in earnest until nearly a year into the
recession, then peaked before the end of the recession, and returned to pre-recession levels within a few months
after the end of the recession.
Another trend that is apparent at the total private level is that quits (voluntary separations) outnumber layoffs and
discharges (involuntary separations) for most of the JOLTS series. Only during the Great Recession and for