Employers in May posted the most job openings in seven years but hiring continued to lag, the Labor Department said Tuesday.
Businesses and governments advertised 4.6 million openings in May, the most since June 2007, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey.
The number of hires, however, dipped from 4.8 million to 4.7 million.
Job openings have risen solidly during the recovery, but hiring has not kept pace. Over the past year, openings have jumped about 16%, while the number of hires is up about 6%.
Some economists have attributed the disparity to a mismatch between the skills of unemployed Americans and those required by employers. Others say employers are being particularly selective because of the still-high unemployment rate.
In May, hiring accelerated among construction companies but slowed in professional and business services, education and health, and leisure and hospitality.
Meanwhile, the number of people quitting jobs rose slightly to 2.5 million. Quitting is typically a sign of a robust labor market in which workers feel confident enough to leave current positions.
An encouraging sign is that there were an average 2.1 unemployed people for every job opening in May. That's down from a peak of 6.7 in July 2009 and close to the 2-1 ratio that reflects a healthy job market.
"This suggests that there is little slack remaining in labor markets and that wage growth will pick up more quickly than it did at similar levels of the unemployment rate in past cycles," Barclays Capital economist Cooper Howes said in a research note.
The labor market has picked up noticeably in recent months. Employers added an average 272,000 jobs a month from April through June.
The turnover data, however, show that churn and dynamism in the job market is still well below pre-recession levels. It's among the indicators the Federal Reserve is closely watching to determine whether the labor market is resilient enough to withstand an increase in short-term interest rates from near-zero levels.