WASHINGTON (AP) — The pace of job openings reached the highest level on record in February, a harbinger of healthy hiring and a hopeful sign for those looking for work.

The job openings rate — which is the number of available jobs as a percentage of the employed and the open jobs, combined — rose to 4.9%, the highest since the data was first tracked in December 2000, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

The increase reflects a solid rise in open jobs to 7.4 million, up from 7.1 million in January and significantly above the pre-pandemic level of about 7 million. Total hires rose to 5.7 million, though that is below the figure in February 2020, just before the coronavirus intensified.

The data comes from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, which reports the number of job listings, total hiring, and layoffs and quits. The hiring figures represent a gross figure, while the monthly jobs report provides a net number of jobs gained or lost.

Last Friday, the government said a net 916,000 jobs were added, the most since August, and the unemployment rate fell to 6%, from 6.2%.

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