Companies posted fewer job openings in August

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Employers advertised fewer jobs in August than the previous month, a sign some may have pulled back on hiring plans in the face of wild stock market swings and renewed recession fears.

Companies and governments posted 3.1 million job openings in August, down from 3.2 million in the previous month.

The drop was the first in four months, although July’s openings were the highest in nearly three years.

Still, there’s heavy competition for each job. Nearly 14 million people were out of work in August, which means an average of 4.6 unemployed workers competed for each opening. That’s worse than July, when the ratio was 4.3. In a healthy economy, the ratio is roughly 2 to 1.

Total openings are more than 900,000 higher than they were in July 2009, one month after the recession officially ended. But they are far below the 4.4 million jobs advertised in December 2007, when the recession began.

The downshift in job postings partly reflects the increasing ability of companies to quickly adjust their hiring plans if the economy sours.

“As soon as companies hear talk of a ‘soft patch,’ they hit the pause button on hiring,” said Jeff Joerres, chief executive of ManpowerGroup, the world’s largest staffing agency.

August was a weak month for hiring. Employers added only 57,000 net jobs that month, about half the total added in July.

Some companies may have delayed hiring plans after the economy flashed signs of trouble and seemed to be more at risk of falling into another recession.

The government said the economy barely grew in the first six months of the year, and consumer confidence fell to a two-year low. The White House and Congress fought over raising the nation’s borrowing limit, Standard & Poor’s downgraded long-term U.S. government debt and Europe’s debt crisis intensified. Stock markets plunged in response.

Hiring picked up a bit in September; the economy added 103,000 net jobs, the government said last week.

That was enough to ease fears the economy is about to fall into another recession. But it wasn’t enough to lower the unemployment rate, which stayed at 9.1 percent for a third straight month.