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Thursday, January 27, 2022

People are quitting their jobs in record numbers

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Dear Editor,

Sorry to leave you this week but I left.


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This is a joke to me (get it, boss?), but across America there is another trend causing COVID with records of people who have quit.

The reasons for calling it the “Great Resignation” are many. Among them: health concerns, growing unhappiness with a job most notably the pandemic, the prospect of telecommuting and people retiring sooner than planned.

The data supports this. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national “resignation” rate (part of the Jobs and Employment Turnover Survey, or JOLTS) jumped to 3% of the non-farm workforce in September. This is the highest number since tracking began 20 years ago. In September alone, 4.4 million people voluntarily left their jobs.

But this is not the full story. Hiring is also strong. In September, employers employed more than two million workers than those who quit, although national hiring remains below pre-COVID levels.

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Barclays economists released a report saying the “major resignation” would be temporary:

“We believe this resignation dynamic is mostly a symptom of other underlying forces affecting labor market participation, rather than a cause,” according to Barclays Deputy Chief US Economist Jonathan Millar.

“Indeed, the high quit rate is nonsense to understand the slow return of workers to the US labor market after the COVID-19 pandemic, in our view,” Millar continued. “Instead, the real reason is workers’ reluctance to return to the workforce, due to pandemic-related impacts such as infection risks, infection-related illnesses, and a lack of affordable child care.”

Smoking cessation is the highest in technology and healthcare.

Meanwhile, large numbers are considering quitting.

According to a Harris Poll conducted for Catalyst and CNBC in October, 76% of respondents want employers to offer work that is more flexible, both on schedule and location. But nearly all say employers think they are more innovative and work harder in the office.

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Readers have asked me what these leavers intend to do. Do they live on unemployment, savings, or parents? Don’t they worry about the safety net that your employer provides, especially health care?

It’s head scratching. I was very negligent in choosing my father, so I always had to work to survive, and I am fortunate to have a calling that I love.

At least some people have started their own businesses, a measure that has emerged during COVID-19. Others move on to better, higher-paying jobs — or stick to other jobs. Still others choose to retire. Increasing stock portfolios and checking stimulus has helped some.

In June, NPR described a profile of a food service worker who quit his job as the general manager of a San Diego restaurant. His decision was prompted by dealing with staff shortages, undisguised customers and finally contracting COVID-19 himself. His unemployment checks gave him a cushion to understand a new chapter.

The pandemic has spawned a cottage industry of hot stuff, about how it will change everything forever. The offices are over! Central business districts are dead! Remote work is here to stay! People are fleeing the big cities (this didn’t happen)! Maybe some of them might come true.

The major resignation could be a profound inflection point. Or it could be that moment when the pandemic gave workers some breathing room to realize how much they hate their jobs and want to find something better. As with the rest, we’ll see.

A store advertises a Help Wanted sign in Annapolis, Maryland, on May 12, 2021.

What will they do instead?

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