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David Nicklaus is a business columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Applications for US jobless aid plunge

In this Aug. 19, 2013 file photo, a Philadelphia business displays a help wanted sign in its storefront.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

The St. Louis area unemployment rate rose to 3.6 percent in April, the first time in nearly three years it hasn't been below the national average.

The metro area jobless rate, as seasonally adjusted by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, had been 3.5 percent in January, February and March. U.S. unemployment fell to 3.6 percent in April from 3.8 percent in March.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the metro St. Louis workforce expanded by 1,606 people, or 0.1 percent, between April 2018 and April 2019. The number of people counted as unemployed also rose, by 781.

St. Louis unemployment remains just slightly above the 30-year low of 3.3 percent, which was recorded last summer and fall, and far below the 2009 peak of 10.4 percent.

A new BLS report, meanwhile, shows a sharp increase last year in the number of job openings in Missouri. The BLS released an "experimental" state version of its job openings and labor turnover survey, which is conducted monthly.

Missouri's rate of job openings closely tracks the national trend most of the time, the figures show. In January 2018, for example, Missouri employers posted openings that were equal to 4.2 percent of all jobs, and the U.S. rate was 4.3 percent.

By the end of last year, the Missouri rate rose to 5.4 percent, a full percentage point above the national rate of 4.4 percent. The increase meant Missouri had 38,600 more job openings in December than they had a year earlier.

Missouri employers' hiring and firing activity remained about average, though. In December, new hires amounted to about 3.4 percent of Missouri jobs, while the layoff and discharge rate was 1.3 percent.

Missouri's quit rate -- often cited as a measure of workers' confidence about their ability to find a new job -- also is close to average. In December, 2.2 percent of the state's workers left their jobs voluntarily, compared with a national rate of 1.9 percent.