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Job openings have come back since the recession. Why not hiring?

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Here's some great news: the number of job openings just hit its highest mark since January 2001. As of February, there were 5.9 million job openings in the US economy, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

That new opportunity is good news for the jobless: the number of unemployed people per job opening is at its lowest point since late 2007, with less than 1.8 unemployed people per job opening.

FRED job openings
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

But there's also some not-so-great news in Tuesday's release: while job openings are heating up, hiring isn't speeding up quite as fast.

FRED hires and job openings
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

This continues a trend that my colleague Matt Yglesias pointed out last fall. So what's going on? It might be that there's a skill mismatch — that the workers who are available just aren't qualified for the work employers are offering. And that's probably true in some higher-skill industries.

But a lot of it is probably also hesitancy from employers. Clearly they are open to hiring (hence all the job postings), but they're taking their time doing it  — and not raising wages much in an attempt to lure in workers. One possibility is that employers, who still have a huge number of unemployed and underemployed Americans out there to pick from, are still waiting for perfect candidates to come along. This has been a problem throughout the recovery.

Last Friday's jobs report was also something of a disappointment, showing that hiring slowed way down in March. One disappointing jobs report doesn't necessarily spell doom ... but what this data does make clear is that there's plenty of room for more hiring, and it's not happening.