WASHINGTON - Job openings rose in several sectors of the economy in February, including retail, manufacturing, transportation, restaurants and hotels, the Labor Department said.

The report is consistent with other surveys showing hiring is picking up in those areas. It also echoes recent national employment reports, which showed broad job gains in March.

Total job openings, meanwhile, declined in February, the department said. That's a sign that hiring remains sluggish even though employers are starting to add workers as they gain more confidence that the recovery is taking hold.

The government's Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey illustrates the churn that takes place in the job market, even when hiring is weak. Employers posted 2.7 million job openings at the end of February. That was about 130,000 fewer than in the previous month. But it still exceeded the record lows of 2.4 million last year.

"Generally, you're moving in the right direction on job openings," said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase. But "as today's numbers remind us, it's not a straight line up."

Retailers listed 320,000 openings, up from 255,000 the previous month, the department said. Manufacturers posted 17,000 more openings.

The economy created 162,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said last week. Yet the unemployment rate remained stuck at 9.7 percent as the number of people looking for work rose.Other surveys also point to job gains. The Conference Board said last week that online job postings have risen by about 650,000 in the past five months to more than 3.9 million.

Automaker BMW Manufacturing Co., meanwhile, said  that it plans to hire about 200 temporary production and logistics workers at its Greer, S.C., plant. The plant makes BMW's X5 and X6 models and will begin production of the X3 later this year.

Still, about 14.8 million people were jobless in February. That's nearly double the total from before the recession began in December 2007. It means about 5.5 people, on average, are competing for each available job. That's higher than in January, but down from the record 6.2 reached in November. Only 1.8 people, on average, were competing for each opening in December 2007.

The Labor Department's report also showed that layoffs declined sharply in February. They fell to 1.8 million from 1.95 million in January. Layoffs have fallen back to pre-recession levels, but job openings are recovering more slowly. Job openings remain about 40% below their pre-recession levels of about 4.5 million.