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Job openings increased toward the end of 2020, but a big employment gap remains

A hiring sign is posted i front of a Target store on February 05, 2021 in San Rafael, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Employers added slightly more job posts late last year, but hiring slipped as the labor market ended 2020 on an uncertain note, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

Total openings increased to 6.65 million in December, better than the 6.6 million estimate from FactSet.

That still left a gap of some 4.1 million workers who remained unemployed, many of whom were still displaced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Though job postings continue to gain, they remain below the pre-pandemic level of just over 7 million in February 2020.

Vacancies rose by nearly 300,000 in professional and business services, which saw its openings rate swell from 5.6% to 6.9%.

Available positions fell in leisure and hospitality, which dropped by 127,000 to 761,000 for the month, which saw the openings rate slide from 6.2% to 5.5%,

Hiring fell sharply for the month, down nearly 400,000 to 5.54 million, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, a report closely watched by policymakers for clues about slack in the labor market.

Most of the hiring decline came in the hospitality industry, which saw a drop of more than 300,000 to 777,000. Within that group, arts, entertainment and recreation accounted for a decline of 82,000 as the hiring rate tumbled from 7.8% in November to 3.5%.

Hospitality, which includes hotels, restaurants, bars and casinos, saw a layoff increase of 63,000, or 3.9%, up from 3.2% in the previous month.

Overall, nonfarm payrolls were off 227,000 for December. January saw a rebound of 49,000, but more than 10 million remain unemployed, up 4.4 million from the pre-pandemic level.

JOLTS data runs a month behind the payrolls count. January’s unemployment rate slid to 6.3%, but that came amid a sharp decline in the labor force.

The quits level, a gauge of worker confidence, rose slightly as 3.29 million workers left their jobs, an increase of 106,000 for the month.

Total separations declined slightly to 5.46 million.