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US job openings fall to lowest level since March 2021 as labor market cools

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers posted 8.7 million job openings in October, the fewest since March 2021, in a sign that hiring is cooling in the face of higher interest rates yet remains at a still-healthy pace.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that openings were down significantly from 9.4 million in September.

U.S. hiring is slowing from the breakneck pace of the past two years. Still, employers have added a solid 239,000 jobs a month this year. And the unemployment rate has come in below 4% for 21 straight months, the longest such streak since the 1960s.

The job market has shown surprising resilience even as the Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate 11 times since March 2022 to fight the worst bout of inflation in four decades.

Higher borrowing costs have helped ease inflationary pressures. Consumer prices were up 3.2% in October from a year earlier — down from a peak of 9.1% in June 2022.

The Labor Department will issue the November jobs report on Friday. Is is expected to show that employers added nearly 173,000 jobs last month. That would be up from 150,000 in October, partly because of the end of strikes by autoworkers and Hollywood writers and actors.

The unemployment rate is expected to have remained at 3.9%, according to a survey of forecasters by the data firm FactSet.

Though unemployment remains low, 1.93 million Americans were collecting unemployment benefits the week that ended Nov. 18, the most in two years. That suggests that those who do lose their jobs need assistance longer because it is getting harder to find new employment.

Overall, the combination of easing inflation and resilient hiring has raised hopes the Fed can manage a so-called soft landing — raising rates just enough to cool the economy and tame price increases without tipping the economy into recession.

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