(USA TODAY) -- Job openings crept up for the fifth straight month in June, reaching their highest level since February 2001, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.
The seasonally adjusted level of openings was 4.7 million on June 30, up from 4.6 million at the end of May, according to the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Openings have risen steadily each month this year from 3.87 million in January, averaging 159,000 per month.
The recent trend in job openings is one of several encouraging signs pointing to a strengthening labor market.
For the first time since 1997, the economy has strung together six straight months of job gains exceeding 200,000. Last month, employers added 230,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.2% in July, more than a full percentage point below July 2013 and half a point lower than in February and March.
And first-time claims for unemployment benefits over the latest four weeks have averaged 289,000 -- the lowest since early 2006. That shows layoffs are low.