Job openings in the US dropped to a five-month low in September, signaling uneven progress in the labor market may extend through year-end.

The number of positions waiting to be filled declined by 100,000 to 3.56 million from the prior month, the Labor Department said today in a statement. Openings have cooled since reaching a peak this year of 3.74 million in March.

A slowing global economy and the risk Congress won't avert $US607 billion in automatic federal tax increases and spending cuts next year represent obstacles for American companies as they assess hiring plans. Today's figures show the October jump in private payrolls, the biggest in eight months, may be difficult to sustain without faster economic growth.

“We're looking at a very subdued pace of employment,” said Michelle Girard, senior US economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “The economy is growing, but growing too slowly. Firms want more clarity on the outlook before they're actually going to step up their hiring pace.”

Stocks gained for a second day as Americans headed to the polls to decide between giving President Barack Obama another four years or replacing him with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed 1.1 per cent to 1,432.21 at 12:08 p.m. in New York.

Talking to customers, “what we're hearing is that they're not hiring, they're not investing right now,” Greg Lehmkuhl, president of Con-way Freight Inc., said during a Nov. 1 call with analysts. “They're waiting for some more stability in the political and fiscal policies. Hopefully after the election and with the dealing of the fiscal cliff our customers will feel more confident in investing in their businesses.”

European Economy

Europe's economy showed more signs of strain, according to figures today. German factory orders fell in September by the most in a year as Europe's sovereign-debt crisis and slowing economic growth prompted companies to reduce investment. Orders, adjusted for seasonal swings and inflation, slumped 3.3 per cent from August, when they dropped a revised 0.8 per cent, the Economy Ministry in Berlin said. That's the second straight drop and the biggest since September 2011.

The number of Americans hired in September dropped to 4.19 million, pushing down the hiring rate to 3.1 per cent from 3.3 per cent, according to today's Labor Department report.

Without more openings, Cheryl Boyd from Columbus, Ohio, will have a harder time with the search she started in January. The 55-year-old said she enrolled in community-college classes and career counseling and has been attending job fairs -- so far without success. She has interviewed for four positions, including one at a casino.

Babysitting Jobs

To make ends meet in the meantime, Boyd said she's been taking freelance photography jobs, babysitting for friends and using her credit card.

“I would take part time, full-time -- I would take something below my qualification, anything,” Boyd said. “It's just been an odd job search. I think what I've noticed is that it's the employer's market.”

Today's US Labor Department report helps illuminate the government's monthly employment figures.

In October, payrolls expanded by 171,000 workers after a 148,000 gain in September that was larger than first estimated, a report showed Nov. 2. Private payrolls rose by 184,000, the most since February. The jobless rate increased to 7.9 per cent as more people began looking for work.

Increases in payrolls so far this year have averaged 157,000 a month, little changed from the 153,000 average for 2011.

'Knife's Edge'

“The labor market is on a knife's edge,” Neil Dutta, head of US economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC in New York, said in a note to clients. “Ongoing improvement in employment will require a stronger rate of hiring.”

Declines in job openings at professional and business services, government and manufacturing accounted for much of the decrease in available employment. Openings increased in education and health services as well as the trade, transportation and utilities industries.

Total firings, which exclude retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, decreased to 1.7 million from 1.85 million a month before, today's report showed.

About another 1.98 million people quit their jobs in September, down from 2.15 million in the prior month. That drove the total separations rate to 3 per cent from 3.3 per cent.

In the 12 months ended in September, the economy created a net 1.8 million jobs, representing 51.6 million hires and about 49.8 million separations.

Considering the 12.09 million Americans who were unemployed in September, today's figures indicate there were about 3.4 people vying for every opening, up from about 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.

BLOOMBERG