Job openings slide to 8.7 million in October, well below estimate, to lowest level since March 2021

 Job openings tumbled in October to their lowest in 2½ years, a sign that the historically tight labor market could be loosening.

Employment openings totaled 8.73 million for the month, a decline of 617,000, or 6.6%, the Labor Department reported Tuesday. The number was well below the 9.4 million estimate from Dow Jones and the lowest since March 2021.

The decline in vacancies brought the ratio of openings to available workers down to 1.3 to 1, a level that only a few months ago was around 2 to 1.

Federal Reserve policymakers watch the report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, closely for signs of labor slack. The Fed has boosted interest rates dramatically since March 2022 to slow the labor market and cool inflation and is contemplating its next policy move.

While job openings fell dramatically, total hires only nudged lower while layoffs and separations were modestly higher. Quits, which are seen as a measure of worker confidence in the ability to change jobs and find another one easily, also were little changed.

Teenagers' mathematics and reading skills are in an unprecedented decline across dozens of countries and COVID school closures are only partly to be blamed, the OECD said on Tuesday in its latest survey of global learning standards.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said it had seen some of the steepest drops in performance since 2000 when it began its usually triennial tests of 15-year-olds' reading, maths, and science skills.

Nearly 700,000 youths took the two-hour test last year in the OECD's 38 mostly developed country members and 44-non members for the latest study, closely watched by policymakers as the largest international comparison of education performance.

Compared to when the tests were last conducted in 2018, reading performance fell by 10 points on average in OECD countries, and by 15 points in mathematics, a loss equivalent to three-quarters of a year's worth of learning.

Reuters Graphics
Reuters Graphics

While more than half of the 81 countries surveyed saw declines, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland saw particularly sharp drops in mathematics scores, the OECD said.

On average across the OECD, one out of four 15-year-olds tested as a low performer in maths, reading, and science, which means they could not use basic algorithms or interpret simple texts, the study found.

"COVID probably played some role but I would not overrate it," OECD director of education Andreas Schleicher told a news conference.

"There are underlying structural factors and they are much more likely to be permanent features of our education systems that policymakers should really take seriously."

Countries that provided extra teacher support during COVID school closures scored better and results were generally better in places where easy teacher access to special help was high.

Poorer results tended to be associated with higher rates of mobile phone use for leisure and where schools reported teacher shortages.

The OECD said the decline was not inevitable, pointing to Singapore, where students scored the highest in maths, reading, and science, with results that suggested they were on average three to five years ahead of their OECD peers.

After Singapore, Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea also outperformed in maths and science, where Estonia and Canada also scored well.

In reading, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan earned top marks and were all the more notable in Ireland and Japan because their spending per student was no higher than the OECD average.

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