WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. job openings surged in February to a 14-year high, yet employers filled fewer of those jobs than in the previous month.

On a brighter note, the Labor Department also said Tuesday that layoffs fell sharply. Taken together, the figures suggest that signs of a stumbling economy have prompted U.S. businesses to pull back on hiring. But they weren't spooked enough to cut more jobs.

Job-seekers search for openings on computers provided by a Massachusetts employment service. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

The number of available jobs rose 3.4 percent in February to 5.1 million, the government says, the most since January 2001. That indicates companies want to add staff, and suggests that a slowdown in job gains in March could be temporary.

The government said last week that employers added just 126,000 jobs in March, the fewest in 15 months. Many economists blamed that weak figure on temporary factors, such as harsh winter weather, a labor dispute at West Coast ports that disrupted shipping, and a stronger dollar that has hurt U.S. export sales.

The sharp rise in open jobs "is a reassuring sign that the fundamentals of the labor market have continued to improve," said Jeremy Schwartz, an analyst at Credit Suisse.

The jobs figures reported Friday are a net figure: Jobs gained minus jobs lost. The data being reported Tuesday are more detailed. They calculate total hires, as well as quits and layoffs. Tuesday's data also reflects data for February, and is a month behind last week's jobs report.

Despite the rise in openings, Tuesday's data also showed that total hiring in February slipped 1.6 percent to 4.9 million. That may reflect caution on the part of employers. It also suggests that they may be having trouble finding workers with the skills they need.

Layoffs, meanwhile, plummeted 7.6 percent to 1.6 million, the lowest level in 16 months. That points to a high degree of job security for those Americans who are employed.

The number of people quitting their jobs slipped 3.3 percent to 2.7 million, the report showed. That is still 10.2 percent higher than a year ago. More people quitting can be a good sign for the economy, because people typically quit when they have found another job, usually at higher pay.

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