In August, 4.3 million people — a record number — quit their jobs for a variety of reasons. It was believed that once the labor market began to settle down after the disruptions caused by the pandemic those numbers would ease and the demand for work would catch up with the supply of jobs.
That may be the case, but not in September. A record 4.4 million workers decided to leave their jobs, raising the specter that the disconnect between the number of jobs and people looking for work would continue to dampen economic growth.
The specific industries being affected by people leaving their jobs reveal one aspect of the crisis: In a flush labor market, many workers have the luxury of changing careers for better pay, benefits, or both.
In September, the number of quits increased in arts, entertainment, and recreation (+56,000); a category labeled “other services” (+47,000); and state and local government education (+30,000). In general, industries with the highest percentages of workers quitting include trade, transportation, and utilities, particularly retail, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality industries like arts and entertainment, and hotels and restaurants. A whopping 6.6 percent of workers in accommodation and food services quit their job in the month.
The South, the West and Midwest have the highest numbers of workers quitting their jobs, at 3.3, 3.1 and 3.0 percent, while only 2.2 percent of workers in the Northeast are quitting jobs.
The number of people leaving their jobs is a staggering three percent of the entire workforce. When 6.6 percent of the hotel and restaurant employees leave their jobs in one month — and that’s with large incentives not present before the pandemic — you have to think there’s a fundamental shift in the labor force at work.
But what is it these people want?
Economists surmise that phenomena is a result of a complicated mix of trends. Child and family care, and schooling unpredictability continue to fuel the reluctance of some parents to get back into the labor force. Public health concerns remain an issue for in-person work, with the virus caseloads remaining stubborn despite declining significantly from their mid-September peak.
Many workers have made the calculation that their old jobs — low paying work in industries like restaurants, which have really struggled to fill holes — are no longer desirable, even as companies dangle raises and bonuses to lure workers back to the workplace. Some older workers have taken early retirements, part of a portrait of a labor force that has shrunk, by percentage of the U.S. population during the pandemic.
And some economists’ question whether there are other factors that have reshaped the traditional dynamics of the labor force after 750,000 people have died.
Speaking from experience, there are few jobs with higher stress levels and lower rewards than restaurant and bar work. So it’s not surprising that the turnover in those jobs would be so high.
According to the jobs site ZipRecruiter, 55 percent of people looking for work on their site desire some kind of home employment.
Of those who were seeking the ability to work from home, 85 percent said either workplace safety concerns (50 percent) or child care/family care needs (35 percent) were driving their decisions — data that indicates how many people are attempting to switch industries in the hopes of being able to work from home.
The pandemic has started a revolution in employment that we are only able to dimly discern the outlines of at present. It’s unsettling to industries, to workers, and their families — as all revolutions are.
Not everyone is “learning to code.” But a far greater number of people will probably end up happier and more satisfied with their jobs when it’s all said and done.