WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. job openings fell to a 1-1/2-year low in August and hiring slipped, suggesting employment growth was slowing mostly because of ebbing demand for labor.

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, dropped by 123,000 to a seasonally adjusted 7.05 million in August, the lowest level since March 2018, the Labor Department said in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, on Wednesday.

It was the third straight monthly drop in job openings, which have been trending lower this year since scaling an all-time high of 7.6 million in late 2018. The job openings rate fell to 4.4% in August from 4.5% in July.

Hiring decreased by 199,000 jobs to 5.8 million in August, led by declines in the private sector. The hiring rate slipped to 3.8% from 3.9% in July.

Nonfarm payrolls rose by 136,000 jobs in September, down from 168,000 in August, the government reported last Friday. The three-month average gain in private employment fell to 119,000, the smallest since July 2012, from 135,000 in August.

Job growth has averaged 161,000 per month this year, compared to a monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018. Job gains remain above the roughly 100,000 per month needed to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The unemployment rate fell to near a 50-year low of 3.5% in September from 3.7% in August.

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