The number of open jobs in the U.S. reached a record high of 8.1 million in March, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

Job openings rose by 597,000 in March, an increase of 5.3 percent, to the highest level since the Labor Department began tracking the data in December 2000. The largest gains came in leisure and hospitality (185,000), public education (155,000) and arts, entertainment and recreation (81,000).

The number of hires stayed even at roughly 6 million in March, a month when the U.S. added 770,000 jobs, according to revised totals from the April employment report. Layoffs also declined to a record low of 1.5 million in March.

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The data is the latest window into how U.S. businesses are rushing to meet a surge of demand and get ahead of a post-pandemic boom. While the U.S. is still down roughly 9 million jobs after losing more than 21 million during the onset of the pandemic, firms across the country have reported difficulty finding workers to come back.

Republican lawmakers and some right-leaning economists have blamed enhanced unemployment benefits for keeping workers on the sidelines, and the surge in openings is likely to fuel their concern.

Even so, most economists say jobless aid is far from the only factor keeping potential workers home with just less than 50 percent of U.S. adults still unvaccinated and many schools and daycare centers still partially closed. Read more at The Hill