The number of job openings in the United States rose slightly in April, the 12th straight month in which the number of people hired exceeded those who left their jobs, the Labor Department (search) said Wednesday.

April job openings rose 0.4 percent to 3.091 million from 3.079 million in March as gains in manufacturing, government, and education and health services offset declines in construction, trade, transportation and utilities, professional/business services and leisure.

The monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (search), or JOLTS, is more dated than many used to gauge the job market. But it has become a better measure since the department earlier this year began to adjust the numbers for seasonal variations.

The Labor Department said the job openings rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent in April. The rate, calculated by dividing the number of job openings on the last business day of the month by employment plus job openings, has ranged from 2.0 percent to 2.4 percent since October 2001, when the U.S. economy was mired in recession.

The department said there were 4.358 million hires in April, down 5.3 percent from 4.603 million the prior month. The hire rate, or number of hires in the month divided by employment, fell to 3.3 percent in April from 3.5 percent in March.

The report said April marked the 12th straight month that hires outpaced separations due to firing, layoff, quitting or retirement, which fell 2.5 percent to 4.029 million in April from 4.134 million in March. The separation rate, or number of separations in the month divided by employment, fell to 3.1 percent from 3.2 percent in March.

The April rate of quits, a barometer of how easy it is for workers to change jobs, held steady at 1.7 percent for the third straight month. But the number of quits in the February-to-April period outpaced the same three months in 2003, Labor said. The number of quits as a percentage of total separations has been on the rise since last December.

Voluntary job leavers were 55.2 percent of total April separations, the department said.

Last week, Labor said U.S. May nonfarm payrolls (search) rose by 248,000 after an upwardly revised 346,000 jump in April. Jobless claims have been falling, in another positive sign.

Labor said its JOLTS report for May will be out on July 7. The data are available at Web site http://www.bls.gov/jlt/