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Friday, January 28, 2022

Record Number of American Workers Quit Jobs in September

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Employers are still struggling to fill the millions of open jobs – and keep the workers they already have.

More than 4.4 million workers left their jobs voluntarily in September, the Labor Department said on Friday. That was up from 4.3 million in August and was the largest number in two decades tracked by the government. Nearly a million people have quit their jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry alone, reflecting fierce competition for workers there as companies recover from the pandemic-induced shutdown last year.

There were 10.4 million jobs in the United States at the end of September. That’s just below the record 11.1 million posted in July, before the delta variant spread of the coronavirus slashed sales at some companies. But labor demand remains extraordinarily high by historical standards — before the pandemic, the record number of vacancies for a month was 7.6 million in November 2018. The Labor Department revised its estimate of job vacancies in August to 10.6 million.

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There were nearly 75 unemployed workers for every 100 vacant jobs in September, the lowest on record. Separate data released last week by the Labor Department showed that job growth rebounded in October but the workforce barely grew.

“You’re basically seeing that demand continues to increase without an offsetting increase in talent,” said Ryan Sutton, area manager at Robert Half International, a recruiting firm. “Until some new talent comes along, until we get the employees on the sidelines back into the market, it’s very likely that this will continue.”

Economists cite a number of reasons for the slow return. The pandemic continues to disrupt childcare, making it difficult for some parents to work; Other workers are concerned about contracting the virus or passing it on to family members who are at high risk. Many Americans have also pooled their savings during the pandemic, which has allowed them to be more picky about jobs.

These factors are likely to recede as the epidemic subsides and savings dwindle. But other transformations may be more permanent. In a research note published Friday, economists at Goldman Sachs note that nearly two-thirds of people who left the workforce during the pandemic are over the age of 55; Many of them have retired and are unlikely to return to work.

The employment crisis gives workers the upper hand in negotiations. Wages have risen sharply in recent months, particularly in service jobs, although wages in other industries lag behind the pace of inflation.

The recent rise in the number of freelance workers indicates that many are using their influence to accept, or to search for, better-paying jobs. At the same time, staff shortages in many companies may put pressure on remaining workers, causing more people to leave their jobs. Industries that require the most employees to work in person, such as manufacturing, retail and health care — as well as entertainment and hospitality — are recording the largest increases in the rate at which workers leave their jobs.

“We are seeing a huge rebound in layoffs in industries that are having the toughest time hiring right now,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at job site Indeed.

Kaylie Sweeting worked as a waiter in Millburn, New Jersey, through most of the pandemic, despite concerns about interactions with undisguised customers and frustration about low wages. But when the restaurant pressured a colleague to come to work sick this summer, Sweeting quit.

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“The job is not worth it at all,” she said. “I’m hurt because the company to whom I gave my time doesn’t seem to prioritize me or my safety.”

So Ms Sweeting, 23, and her partner, a cook, decided to take the money they saved up to buy a house and open their own vegan restaurant instead. They recently signed a lease and are beginning renovation work, with plans to open early next year. They are trying to apply the lessons they learned as employees, promising good wages, paid time off and other essential benefits that restaurant jobs often fail to provide.

“I honestly love the industry,” Ms. Sweeting said. “I just don’t like the way it’s managed. I feel the only way to change it is to implement the change yourself.”

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