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The number of available jobs in the United States unexpectedly rose last month, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Tuesday. However, despite the uptick, the labor market remains in the throes of a cooldown amid the Federal Reserve’s aggressive actions to curb inflation.

The United States had an estimated 9.026 million job openings in December, according to seasonally adjusted data released as part of the BLS’ monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report. That total is higher than the upwardly revised 8.925 million available jobs estimated for November.

Economists had expected December job openings to drop for a fourth consecutive month and land at 8.714 million.

“We’re back over the 9 million mark, which is a three-month high, and the bulk of the gains were in the private sector,” Jennifer Lee, senior economist with BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a note issued Tuesday. “So the good news is that there are options out there — if one is still unemployed or is looking for extra work. The bad news is that it means that the consumer could spend more, and that’s not what the Fed wants right now.”

Other metrics in the JOLTS report “changed little” from the month before, the BLS noted.

The number of new hires bounced up to 5.621 million after having fallen the month before to some of the lowest levels seen in years.

In November, the rate of hires as a percentage of total employment was 3.5%. Outside of the initial stages of the pandemic, that was the lowest hires rate since 2014.

In December, layoffs increased to 1.616 million from 1.531 million the month before and remain still well below pre-pandemic averages.

However, employees appear to be growing less confident in the labor market and less willing to take risks: The number of quits dropped to 3.392 million, the lowest level since January 2021.

The Federal Reserve has been hoping to see more slack in the labor market to help in the central bank’s fight to bring down inflation. When there’s an imbalance in the supply and demand for workers, it could cause wages to rise and, in turn, prompt companies to raise prices.

In recent months, Fed Chair Jerome Powell has remarked that the labor market has remained strong but in better balance than it had during the throes of the pandemic recovery. At one point in early 2022, job openings soared north of 12 million.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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