Record Number of Americans Left Jobs in November: What Does the 'Big Quit' Mean in a COVID Economy?

© REUTERS / Carlo AllegriFILE PHOTO: A waiter sets up tables in front of a restaurant on a street on the first day of the phase two re-opening of businesses following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., June 22, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: A waiter sets up tables in front of a restaurant on a street on the first day of the phase two re-opening of businesses following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., June 22, 2020.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.01.2022
Between April and September of 2021, over 24 million Americans quit their jobs, with 4.2 million opting out in October, and another 4.5 million walking away in November. Estimates suggest a whopping 38 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. Job openings also increased, from 431,000 to a some 11 million in October.
New figures released by the US Department of Labor revealed on Tuesday that an estimated 4.5 million workers turned in their pink slips in November 2021, marking just the latest uptick in an ever-increasing worker turnover in the labor market.
The numbers are not based on resignations alone, however, as many Americans either changed jobs for better pay, became self-employed, or opted for early retirement.
Data from the Labor Department shows that there are now 500,000 more unincorporated and self-employed individuals than there were at the start of the pandemic. Etsy, self-described as, “an American e-commerce company focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies,” had 2.6 million sellers in September of 2019. That figure jumped to 7.5 million in September of 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed many frontline and service workers, including those who work in the food service and hospitality industries. As workers began to see little return for their hard work and efforts during the pandemic; low pay, lack of benefits, long hours, emotional and/or mental stress, and possible exposure to COVID-19, 7% of workers quit their jobs in August compared to a rate of 2.9% for other industries.
“Lots of quits means stronger worker bargaining power which will likely feed into strong wage gains,” says Nick Bunker, research director at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “Wage growth was very strong in 2021, and… we might see more of the same in 2022.”
Former chief economist at the US Labor Department and current president of the Economic Policy Institute, Heidi Shierholz, is also optimistic. She writes, “Workers being able to quit their jobs to take better jobs is a very good thing and signals an economy with healthy dynamism.”
Early retirement has also played a major role. According to Goldman Sachs, Americans aged 55 and older made up 90% of those who quit in November 2021, opting to trade their jobs in for early retirement.
Despite a consistent Republican talking point that government spending and unemployment benefits are to blame for the worker shortage– the numbers don't add up to support the GOP claim.
Aaron Sojourner, a labor economist at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, told CNN that, “it’s a bit of a puzzle why employers aren’t raising wages and improving working conditions fast enough to draw people back in.”
“They say they want to hire people- there are 11 million job openings- but they're not creating job openings that people want,” Sojourner said, adding, “I can want a 65-inch TV for $50, but it doesn’t mean there’s a TV shortage, it means I’m not willing to pay enough to get somebody to sell me a TV.”
While some are confused by the worker shortage and the growth in job openings, it’s no mystery among low-wage workers, many of whom were already working in high-turnover industries. Browsing the r/careerguidance subreddit, one can find several work stories that offer additional insight to explain the ugly underbelly of the low wage American workforce.
In fact, one Redditor recalled their experience when their manager threatened them and a coworker with “calling corporate” after the pair called out from work after suffering food poisoning. The two colleagues came under the weather shortly after ingesting products from their employer.
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The post gained some traffic on the website with one comment stating that the supervisor was simply using an “intimidation tactic”. “If they actually did so, corporate would then have definitive evidence they have an incompetent manager controlling their assets and maybe look for a replacement,” the redditor added.
Another redditor detailed how their place of employment was prompting them to feel “severe anxiety” and depression, noting that they felt as though they “lost a huge part of my dignity and I crave to do something more meaningful and satisfying.”
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