There were nearly 6.4 unemployed workers, on average, for each available job at the end of November, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday. That's up from 6.1 in October and a record high.
There were 1.7 jobless people for each opening in December 2007, when the recession began.
Job openings fell sharply to 2.42 million in November from 2.57 million in October, according to the department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey.
That's the lowest number of job openings since July 2009 and the second-lowest since the department began tracking the data in 2000. It's also about half the peak level of 4.8 million, reached in June 2007.
The decline shows that even as layoffs are slowing, hiring hasn't picked up. The economy lost 85,000 jobs in December, the department said last week, an improvement from the average job cuts of 691,000 per month in the first quarter of last year. The unemployment rate was 10 percent, the same as in November.
Many economists expect the improving trend will continue and the economy will likely add jobs in the first quarter of this year.
But with so many people out of work, the unemployment rate is forecast to top 10.5 percent later this year.
Small businesses are still reluctant to hire, according to a monthly survey by the National Federation of Independent Business. Eight percent of small companies plan to add jobs in the next three months, the NFIB said Tuesday, while 15 percent plan to reduce employment, little changed from the previous month.
Still, there are some signs that hiring is picking up. The Conference Board said last week that online job postings increased by 255,000, or 13 percent, to 3.64 million in December, according to its Help Wanted OnLine index. The index compiles job postings from 1,200 Internet employment Web sites.