U.S. Job Openings Reached Record Level This Spring

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Available jobs in the U.S. climbed further above pre-pandemic levels last month following a record surge earlier in the spring, a sign of strong demand for workers—with leisure and hospitality sectors showing the most growth in openings.

Openings continued to grow in May, according to job search site Indeed.com. That followed an increase of nearly 1 million unfilled positions in April, to 9.3 million, the highest level on records back to 2000, according to a Labor Department report released Tuesday. Open positions nearly matched the 9.8 million Americans who were unemployed, but searching for work during the month.

Both private and government measures showed surging demand for restaurant, hotel and other service-sector workers.

Indeed data showed the number of overall postings at the end of May was 27% above February 2020’s, from up 23% at the end of April. The gains were led by growing help-wanted ads for jobs in food service, hospitality and tourism and loading and stocking, the latter reflecting the continued strength of online shopping.

The number of openings in May declined in construction and plateaued in recent weeks in manufacturing. Those sectors were among the first to return to pre-pandemic levels of openings late last summer. The Indeed data also showed openings for retail jobs nearly held steady last month after strong gains earlier in the year.

The trends in those sectors suggest that the broad resurgence in demand for labor is reaching a limit in some of the first sectors where demand returned after the pandemic downturn. Conversely, leisure and hospitality, the sector that saw the most jobs lost last year, now has the most growth.

“Consumption patterns are changing as the pandemic ebbs, with people shifting spending toward dining out, travel and other services and away from purchases made during the pandemic,” said

Nick Bunker,

economic research director for North America at Indeed. “That will cause employers’ demand for workers to shift.”

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Last year, consumers purchased goods in larger quantities—ranging from toilet paper to televisions—in a trend that benefited manufacturers and retailers, including grocery stores, general merchandise stores such as Walmart and Target, and home-improvement stores. Many people also sought to improve their homes or buy new ones, which helped spark strong hiring in construction.

Those trends appear to be cooling. Construction employment fell by 20,000 in May, the Labor Department said in a separate report last week. Retail jobs fell by 6,000 last month. Manufacturing employment rose in May but not enough to offset losses in April.

Rising costs for lumber and other materials, as well as rising prices for new homes, are constraining demand for residential construction. Meanwhile, auto manufacturers have faced shortages of microchips, which have caused some layoffs in that sector.

Mr. Bunker said the easing of demand for retail workers likely reflects a shift in demand toward the services sector.

Job postings at food-services businesses were 25% above pre-pandemic levels at the end of May. As recently as March, the sector has less demand for labor than in early 2020. Job postings in hospitality and tourism nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels last month, ending May 3.6% below the February 2020 level.

Jonathan Weathington,

chief executive of the Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar restaurant chain, said he is helping cover a staffing shortfall at his restaurants near Wilmington, N.C., by working in kitchens as needed. The company recently hired nine workers, and Mr. Weathington said he could easily add that many more—if he could find them.

“We’ve seen an incredible surge in business,” Mr. Weathington said. “We as an employer have to get more creative in order to attract and retain people.”

He said Shuckin’ Shack recently called a dozen people in for interviews, he said, and 10 didn’t show up. The company is offering a $500 retention bonus for those who stay on the job for 60 days, giving the option of four-day workweeks and providing workers a meal during their shifts and a second meal to take home.

Although managing the businesses and working in the kitchen on weekends make for long weeks, Mr. Weathington said he enjoys it, most often filling the expediter role, the person who shuffles food from the cooks to the servers.

“I’m the loudest—and I know what the food should look like,” he said.

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com

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