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More American workers quitting — a healthy sign

There were 3.1 unemployed workers, on average, for each open job in April. In a healthy economy, the ratio is 2 to 1.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

There were 3.1 unemployed workers, on average, for each open job in April. In a healthy economy, the ratio is 2 to 1.

WASHINGTON — More Americans are quitting their jobs, suggesting many are growing more confident in the job market. The number of people who quit jobs in April jumped 7.2 percent to 2.25 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That was just below February’s level, which was the highest in 4½ years.

Overall hiring also picked up in April, though not as dramatically. Employers filled 4.4 million jobs, a 5 percent increase from March. Hiring fell in March, and April’s level was below February’s.

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The report offered a reminder the job market is far from healthy. The number of available jobs fell 3 percent to a seasonally adjusted 3.75 million. Openings had reached a five-year high in February and remain nearly 7 percent higher than a year ago.

Still, the growth in hiring and quits provides more evidence the job market is making slow but steady strides. Friday’s May employment report showed the economy added a net 175,000 net jobs last month. That’s roughly in line with the average monthly gain over the past two years.

Most workers quit jobs if they have a new position or feel confident they can find one quickly. That opens up opportunities for the unemployed.

The report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, provides the total number of people hired and laid off each month. It’s different from the department’s monthly jobs report, which provides each month’s net job gain or loss and the unemployment rate. By quantifying total hiring and layoffs, the JOLTS report paints a fuller picture of what employers are doing.

For example, for the past two years net job gains have averaged 180,000 per month. But much of that gain reflects a decline in layoffs, rather than more overall hiring.

Layoffs fell to the lowest level on records dating back to 2001 in January. They have since increased slightly but are still below prerecession levels.

Despite April’s increases, overall hiring and quits are still below prerecession figures. Total hiring topped 5 million in most months before the recession began in December 2007. That was 14 percent higher than April’s level.

Monthly quits were typically around 2.8 million before the recession. That was 24 percent higher than in April.

The job market remains competitive. There were 3.1 unemployed workers, on average, for each open job in April. In a healthy economy, the ratio is 2 to 1. The drop in openings suggests job gains may not pick up in the coming months.

Openings have risen faster than hiring since June 2009, when the recession ended. The number of available jobs has increased 58 percent, but hiring has increased only 22 percent — a sign companies are slow to fill the jobs they have posted.

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