A recruitment sign is posted outside a Target store on February 5, 2021 in San Rafael, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Employers hired a little more jobs late last year, but hiring fell as the 2020 job market ended unsafe, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The total number of store openings rose to 6.65 million in December, better than FactSet’s estimate of 6.6 million.

That left a gap of around 4.1 million unemployed workers, many of whom were still displaced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Though job postings continue to grow, they remain below pre-pandemic levels of just over 7 million as of February 2020.

The professional services and business services vacancies increased by nearly 300,000, increasing the open rate from 5.6% to 6.9%.

Vacancies in the leisure and hospitality sectors fell by 127,000 to 761,000 during the month, bringing the open rate down from 6.2% to 5.5%.

Hiring declined sharply during the month, falling by nearly 400,000 to 5.54 million, according to the job vacancy and labor turnover survey, which was closely monitored by policy makers for evidence of a lull in the labor market.

Most of the drop in hiring was due to the hospitality industry, which saw a drop from more than 300,000 to 777,000. Within that group, arts, entertainment and recreation fell 82,000 as the hiring rate fell to 3.5% from 7.8% in November.

In the hospitality industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, bars and casinos, layoffs rose 63,000, or 3.9%, from 3.2% the previous month.

A total of 227,000 people were employed outside of agriculture in December. In January, 49,000 recovered but more than 10 million remain unemployed, 4.4 million more than before the pandemic.

JOLTS data is one month behind the number of pay slips. The unemployment rate fell to 6.3% in January, but this was due to a sharp decline in the labor force.

The termination rate, a measure of employee confidence, rose slightly as 3.29 million workers left their jobs, an increase of 106,000 over the month.

Total separations decreased slightly to 5.46 million.