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US employers advertise most jobs in Nov since March 2008 Unemployment insurance not dead, Democrats vow

WASHINGTON, Jan 18, (Agencies): US employers advertised more jobs in November and more Americans quit, positive signs for millions who are unemployed and looking for work. The Labor Department said Friday that job openings rose 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted 4 million, the most in 5-1/2 years. And the number of people quitting increased 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted 2.4 million, a five-year high. Job openings haven’t topped 4 million since March 2008, just a few months after the Great Recession began. Openings at that level are generally consistent with a healthy job market. And more workers quitting can also be a positive signal, because people usually quit when they either have a new job — typically for more pay — or are confident they can find one.

The data suggest the competition for jobs is getting a little bit easier. There were 2.7 unemployed workers for each available job in November, down from 6.7 just after the recession ended in July 2009. In a healthy economy the ratio is roughly 2 to 1. More job openings and quits suggest greater opportunities for the unemployed. But those positive trends haven’t recently translated into additional hiring. Overall hiring ticked up just 0.2 percent in November to nearly 4.5 million.

The figures also follow a disappointing report on December job growth. The government last week said employers added just 74,000 jobs in December. That’s the fewest in three years and below an average gain of 214,000 in the previous three months. The unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent, the lowest in more than five years. But the rate dropped mostly because more Americans gave up looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively hunting for jobs. Last week’s employment report shows net payroll gains — the number of people hired minus those who were laid off, quit or retired. Friday’s report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, provides more details.

For example, it shows the overall number of people hired each month, rather than just the net gain. Total hires reached 4.6 million in September, a five-year high, but hiring has dipped since then. In the past year, the number of job openings has increased 5.6 percent. But total hiring is only 1.7 percent higher. Economists point to several reasons for the gap. Employers may not be offering sufficient pay and benefits to persuade more workers to take the jobs. They may also be pickier, believing they can find top-notch candidates with the unemployment rate still elevated. US Democrats insisted Thursday that efforts to extend unemployment benefits were not dead despite their failure to pass Congress, warning that ignoring jobless struggles in an election year would be political dynamite.

Extended benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks of jobless aid expired in late December for more than 1.3 million Americans and counting. President Barack Obama has called reviving the program a priority, but negotiations on how to do so deadlocked Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans clashed over how to pay for the additional aid. With Congress going on a week-long break, the issue will not be debated again until Jan 27 at the earliest, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he intends to take up the matter when lawmakers return to Washington. “We’re going to continue to work on this until we get justice for these people,” Reid told a press conference.

Two different proposals collapsed this week. While most Senators are amenable to extending the emergency benefits, Republicans are insisting that they be offset by other savings and that they do not add to the deficit. One proposal by nine Republicans would have offered savings by preventing people from receiving both unemployment benefits and disability aid, coupled with additional spending cuts. Democrats rejected it because some of the cuts would hit programs that help the poor. “The only conclusion anyone could draw is that they’re looking for any excuse there is to deny these people the benefits they should have,” Reid said.

Nancy Pelosi, top Democrat in the House of Representatives, said there was “no way” lawmakers would leave this issue hanging over their heads in November, when voters — already frustrated with a poorly performing Congress — go to the polls. “I hope this is long gone before election time,” she said. House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, has stressed he would consider an extension of benefits if they were sensibly paid for, but he reiterated Thursday that he has yet to see such a plan, and was not convinced of the merits of the Senate proposals.

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