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Job Openings on Track for New High Ahead of Omicron Wave

U.S. job openings are on track to have ended last year at a record high in a strong labor market where the gap between available positions and workers continues to widen.

There were 12 million job openings in the U.S. at the end of December, according to estimates from job-search site Indeed, based on an analysis of online job postings and government data sources.

That would be an increase of 1 million openings since the end of October when the Labor Department reported 11 million open positions, marking an increase in demand for workers ahead of disruptions from the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

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In November, 6.9 million people were unemployed but say they want work, meaning there were roughly two workers for every three openings.

“Demand continued to be relatively strong for workers,” said

Nick Bunker,

an economist at Indeed.

Mr. Bunker said he is watching for a possible short-term labor-market impact from Omicron and expects there to be a broader easing in demand for workers later this year when consumers’ appetite for goods fades.

The Labor Department releases its estimate of November job openings at 10 a.m. ET. The figures lag behind private-sector data by about a month and won’t reflect any impact from the U.S. Omicron surge, which started building in December and is creating disruptions in parts of the economy.

Omicron could dent the labor market if school closures and child-care disruptions in particular limit people’s ability to work, said

Diane Swonk,

chief economist of Grant Thornton.

Some K-12 schools have already changed plans for students returning from the holiday break, either temporarily starting school remotely or canceling classes.

“The biggest thing to watch is participation—if Omicron affects it. That’s what I’m really worried about as we get into January,” Ms. Swonk said.

The gap between employers’ hiring needs and available workers started hitting records last spring and persisted through the end of the year. Workers have remained on the sidelines as the pandemic continued. Some workers have retired, while others faced child-care issues or were fearful of Covid-19 in the workplace.

Workers have also quit jobs at a record rate. In October, for instance, the quits rate reported by the Labor Department fell slightly to 2.8% from 3% and the number of jobs that people quit in October declined to 4.2 million from 4.4 million, a record high. Labor-force participation—which refers to the working-age population that is either employed or seeking employment—has remained below pre-pandemic levels, at 61.8% in November and well below January 2020’s level of 63.4%.

Angela Jia Kim, owner of Savor Beauty and Spa in New York City, employs 20 people selling skin-care products online and services at two locations. Ms. Kim said she has faced turnover in workers since she rehired staff as the economy improved at the beginning of last year.

“I had maybe two or three just say that they’re moving to Colorado or Arizona,” she said. “They just left with no notice.”

“I think it was the stress. It was stressful because of the new normal. It wasn’t the way we were doing business before because now there are way more sanitation protocols, way more (personal protective equipment). It was just out of their comfort zone,” she said.

Ms. Kim said she also has struggled filling vacancies for both the front desk and for estheticians. “It’s just been really tough to find the right people for the right openings,” she added.

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