updated 11/9/2010 11:16:45 AM ET 2010-11-09T16:16:45

Job openings dropped sharply in September, a sign that hiring is likely to remain weak over the next several months.

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The Labor Department said Tuesday that employers advertised 2.9 million jobs at the end of September. That's a drop of 163,000, or 5.3 percent, from the previous month.

The figures come after the department issued a modestly positive employment report on Friday. That report found that employers added a net total of 151,000 jobs in October, more than most economists expected.

Story: Businesses test the waters on hiring

But Tuesday's report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, signals that employers still aren't willing to hire in large numbers. The economy needs to add at least 100,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. The unemployment rate was unchanged in October, at 9.6 percent.

Openings have increased by 25 percent since July 2009, when they fell to their lowest point since records began in 2001. Still, they are far below the 4.4 million openings reported in December 2007, when the recession began.

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The JOLTS report also shows how hard it is for job-seekers to find work. There were 5 unemployed people, on average, for each available job in September.

That's an improvement from a record 6.3 in November 2009, but worse than April's 4.6 unemployed people per job. There were 1.8 jobless workers per opening when the recession began.

Job openings dropped sharply in professional and business services, which includes temp workers, and in hotels and restaurants.

August's total openings were revised downward to just below 3.1 million. Available jobs have now fallen for two straight months.

Layoffs in the private sector, meanwhile, fell for the second straight month to their lowest level in four years.

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