Job openings rise, but businesses still hold off hiring

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Job openings in the U.S. rose in September to the highest level in three months, indicating companies are waiting to make sure the economy will keep growing before committing to expand payrolls.

The number of unfilled positions climbed by 57,000 to 2.48 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Openings were down by 2.3 million, or 48 percent, since peaking in June 2007.

With 15.1 million Americans unemployed in September, that means there are about six workers competing for each available job, one reason why consumer confidence has been shaken. Labor Department figures last week showed the ranks of the unemployed swelled to 15.7 million last month, pushing the jobless rate up to 10.2 percent, the highest level since 1983.

"Companies still have a lingering cautiousness about hiring," said John Herrmann, chief economist at Herrmann Forecasting in Summit, New Jersey. "They may need to get into the new year before they start to plan new hiring."

The rate of job openings in September rose to 1.9 percent from 1.8 percent the previous month, marking the first increase since February. The August reading matched July's as the lowest in records dating back to 2000.