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US job openings, hiring slip in March after healthy gain, latest sign of slow improvement

FILE - In this April 28, 2014 file photo, Natalie Silverstein, of the Broward County Transportation Department, left, explains the job openings at the County to job seeker Janely Ramos, right, during a job fair in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Labor Department releases job openings and labor turnover survey for March on Friday, May 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

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FILE - In this April 28, 2014 file photo, Natalie Silverstein, of the Broward County Transportation Department, left, explains the job openings at the County to job seeker Janely Ramos, right, during a job fair in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Labor Department releases job openings and labor turnover survey for March on Friday, May 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

WASHINGTON - U.S. employers advertised slightly fewer jobs and slowed hiring a bit in March, though the declines came after healthy gains the previous month. The figures suggest the job market is improving in fits and starts.

The Labor Department said Friday that employers posted 4 million jobs in March, down 2.7 per cent from February. But February's total nearly matched November's for the highest level of openings since January 2008, when the Great Recession was just beginning.

The report also showed that February's data for hiring and quits was revised much higher, indicating that the job market was in better shape that month than initially estimated. It's a good sign when more people quit their jobs, because most people do so to take a new position, frequently at higher pay.

Quitting also opens up a position that someone out of work can take.

The number of people quitting their jobs in both February and March reached the highest level since July 2008, Friday's report said.

Total hiring, meanwhile, dipped 1.6 per cent to 4.63 million in March. That's below the 5 million monthly hires that are typical for a healthy job market. But it's 7.5 per cent higher than 12 months earlier.

And nearly 4.7 million people were hired in February, almost matching September's total, which was the most since June 2008.

"Overall, despite the decline in vacancies, the fundamentals of the labour market continue to improve, supporting steady recovery," said Jeremy Schwartz, an analyst at Credit Suisse.

Last week, the government said that employers added 288,000 jobs in April, the most in 2 1/2 years, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.3 per cent from 6.7 per cent.

Friday's report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, offers a more complete picture of the job market. It includes additional data on the number of people quitting or being laid off. And it reports figures for overall hiring. The monthly jobs report provides a net total of job gains or losses.

The additional data in the JOLTs report illustrates how much turnover is happening in the job market. Stronger job markets usually include a greater amount of churn, with more people quitting and greater overall hiring.

Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, has said the central bank monitors the job openings, quits and hiring figures as key indicators of the job market's health. The figures help the Fed decide how to manage short-term interest rates and other efforts to foster financial stability.

There are about 2.6 unemployed Americans for each open job, the report shows. That average has slowly been approaching the 2 to 1 ratio that is typical of healthier economies. It reached 6.7 in July 2009, just after the recession ended.

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