U.S. employers advertised more jobs in October than September, a hopeful sign that hiring could pick up in the coming months.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that job openings rose by 128,000 to 3.68 million. That's the most since June.
The number of available jobs is slowly climbing back to the roughly 4 million that were advertised each month before the recession began in December 2007.
With nearly 12.3 million people unemployed in October, there were 3.3 unemployed people, on average, competing for each open job. That's the lowest ratio since November 2008. Still, in a healthy economy, the ratio is roughly 2 to 1.
In one positive sign, the number of available construction jobs jumped to 130,000, from 82,000 in September. That's the most in more than four years. The housing market is slowly recovering and builders are breaking ground on more single-family homes.
Job openings also rose in manufacturing, retail, and hotels and restaurants. Professional and business services, a category that includes engineers and accountants as well as temporary jobs, also posted more openings.
Companies kept creating jobs in November at a modest pace. Employers added 146,000 net jobs last month, the government said Friday in a separate report. That nearly matches the average gains of about 150,000 jobs per month that the economy has generated all year.
Economists were encouraged by the increase because many feared that Superstorm Sandy and business concerns about looming tax increases and spending cuts in the year-end "fiscal cliff" would drag on hiring.
The unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, its lowest level in four years, down from 7.9 percent in October. But the drop occurred because more people gave up looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching for jobs.
The department said that it could not quantify what impact, if any, Sandy had on October job openings. Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, closing down businesses and cutting off power, particularly in the Northeast.
Job openings in the Northeast actually rose slightly in October, the department said.
Tuesday's report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, looked at total hiring, layoffs and quits. The monthly employment report released Friday measures net hiring and unemployment.