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More open jobs advertised in May

WASHINGTON — US employers advertised more jobs in May than April, a hopeful sign after three months of weak hiring.

Job openings rose to a seasonally adjusted 3.6 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That’s up from 3.4 million in April. It’s also the second-highest level in nearly four years, just behind March’s 3.7 million.

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A rise in openings could mean hiring will pick up. It typically takes one to three months to fill a job.

The report ‘‘suggests business attitudes toward hiring are not in complete free-fall,’’ Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, wrote in a note to clients.

Even with the increase, the competition for jobs remains fierce. There were 12.7 million unemployed people in May, or an average of 3.5 unemployed for each open position. That’s down from a ratio of 3.7 in April. In a healthy job market, the ratio is around 2 to 1.

And more openings have yet to translate into greater hiring.

For the April-June quarter, the economy added an average of only 75,000 net jobs a month, according to the government’s June employment report, released last Friday. That’s roughly a third of the average monthly jobs added in the January-March quarter.

Businesses and governments have been slow to fill jobs in the past year.

Since May 2011, openings have increased by more than 18 percent. But gross hiring has risen only about 4 percent.

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