WASHINGTON — The number of people quitting their jobs has surged to record highs, pushed by a combination of factors that include Americans sensing ample opportunity and better pay elsewhere.
Some 4.3 million people quit jobs in August, according to the monthly survey — about 2.9 percent of the workforce, according to new data released Tuesday from the Department of Labor. Those numbers are up from the previous records set in April and nearly matched in July, of about 4 million people quitting.
The phenomenon is being driven in part by workers who are less willing to endure inconvenient hours and poor compensation, quitting at this stage in the pandemic to find better opportunities elsewhere. According to the report, there were 10.4 million job openings in the country at the end of August — down slightly from July’s record high, which was adjusted up to 11.1 million, but still a tremendously high number.
The ‘’quits’' numbers include about 892,000 workers in restaurants, bars, and hotels, as well as 721,000 workers in retail. An additional 706,000 employees in professional business services and 534,000 workers in health care and social assistance also left jobs.
Nick Bunker, economist at the jobs site Indeed, said the numbers were a reflection of the leverage workers have in the current economic market, with job openings outnumbering unemployed workers.
The high level of people quitting their jobs was likely due in large part to people leaving jobs to take other positions, although the data doesn’t specify why people are quitting and where they are ending up.
‘’This really elevated rate of people quitting their job is a sign that workers have lots of confidence and they have relatively stronger bargaining positions then they’ve had in the past,’’ Bunker said. ‘’There’s lots of demand, and people are seizing that opportunity and quitting their job.’’
The numbers add another data point to a surprising aspect of the pandemic: that workers are emerging with more leverage, as many employers say they are struggling to staff up.
The labor market is still down about five million jobs from where it was before the pandemic and economists say it has to make up even more than that to stage a full recovery, given the growth that would have occurred in a normal economy in the nearly year and a half since the pandemic started.
Employers in many industries, including hotels, restaurants, and construction, have been complaining about difficulty hiring workers after the pandemic upended the labor market and revealed the precarity of many low-wage jobs.
Republican officials in many states sought to address the issue by curtailing federal unemployment benefits this summer, but those cuts seem to have done little to resolve the issue. In September, the country added just 194,000 jobs despite the record numbers of openings.
And workers continue to leave the labor force in small numbers, after big dips at the beginning of the pandemic — a concerning sign economists hope will be reversed if the pandemic is brought under better control.