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- Newly released data shows that another record-breaking number of Americans quit in November.
- Low-wage industries saw the highest number of workers quitting, even while hiring stayed strong.
- It suggests that the shortage of workers in low-wage positions is likely to persist in 2022.
In November, workers seemed to celebrate two American traditions: Thanksgiving and quitting their jobs.
That’s because quitting has become the new national pastime over the past eight months, making 2021 the year of the quit. The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 4.5 million people quit in November — yet another new record high and 3% of the US workforce. That’s up from the 4.2 million workers who left in October. All told, workers have been hanging up their hats at near-record rates since April of last year.
The new data shows that the need for workers stuck around in November, as people left low-paying work at a record rate. Eight months of elevated quits shows that labor shortages and the reshaping of the labor market might be a permanent feature of the post-vaccine economy. The quitting spree says that Americans want better conditions, better pay, and more fulfillment from their jobs.
“Near the end of 2021, workers still had that pretty advantageous position in the labor market and were seeing the many job opportunities out there right now and seizing them — by quitting their job and taking a new one,” Nick Bunker, the economic research director at Indeed, told Insider.
Notably, the number of people getting hired is still higher than the number of workers quitting. Job openings fell slightly in November, and 6.7 million people were hired. While the data doesn’t show where people went when they quit,”it does look like that in 2021, all this job quitting was in order for people to do job switching,” according to Bunker.
The data does show that workers are parachuting out of a certain-type of job: Low-wage work. Quits in leisure and hospitality hit a record high in November; 6.9% of the accommodation and food services workforce quit in November. All told, over 1 million leisure and hospitality workers quit. Retail trade workers also quit well above the average, with the industry losing 4.4% of its workforce to quitting.
Workers leaving low-wage jobs en masse — and at far higher levels than other industries — supports a theory that current labor crunches are more akin to a wage shortage than a labor shortage. Switching jobs is one reliable way to make more money, and the latest data shows low-wage workers are doing just that.
Of course, there’s also the same labor constraints that have been dogging the economy since the pandemic’s onset. Childcare — or lack thereof — has kept some parents out of the labor market. While the latest data release doesn’t factor in the impact of the Omicron variant, the skyrocketing cases might only exacerbate childcare issues, along with workers’ fears about returning to or remaining at in-person work.
What remains to be seen is if labor shortages in their current form do end up becoming permanent — and if worker power will continue to accrue. But it doesn’t seem like the quitting will ease anytime soon, suggesting that low-wage employers may still face a crunch as workers find higher pay elsewhere.