Did you know that 4.6 million Americans found a job in September? It sure sounds like a lot. The same goes for the 4.4 million who lost a job. Multiply by 12 (months), and about 50 million people find a new job each year in the U.S., almost a third of the labor force and a testament to the labor market's flexibility, even during tough times.
What gets all the attention is that other jobs number: the net monthly change in non-farm payrolls, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics generally on the first Friday of the month. September's increase was an unspectacular 163,000. Today's Job Openings and Labor Turnover, or JOLTs, report, helps to put that small change -- what seems like a rounding error -- in context.
I'm not arguing that the current job market is healthy. The news media is filled with stories of people who have been out of work for years, have lost their homes and exhausted their unemployment benefits, and have been forced to rely on the kindness of strangers or family.
Then there's the less well-advertised story line: Many small manufacturers complain that they can't find skilled workers. Today's JOLTs report supports the second story, which may reflect a skills mismatch or the inability of families to move to where the jobs are.
Job openings rose to a five-year high of 3.9 million in September, before the government shutdown. The jobs opening rate (2.8 percent) matched the highest level since May 2008. The ratio of unemployed job seekers to job opening fell to a five-year low of 2.9 percent.
This is all moving in the right direction, albeit at a slow pace. Consumer confidence is still depressed. There's nothing like a job offer to give consumers a shot in the arm. Maybe if they knew about the active churning in the labor market, they just might feel better.
(Caroline Baum is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)