A record 4.3 million Americans – about 2.9% of the total workforce – quit their jobs in August, a sign that workers believe they have leverage to demand higher pay and better employment conditions.
“If you’re unhappy with your job or want a raise, in the current environment it’s pretty easy to find a new one,” Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC, told CNN. “We’re seeing people vote with their feet.”
The mass worker exodus was revealed in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, released Tuesday by the Labor Department. The drain was particularly large in the food service and accommodation industries. 892,000 workers in restaurants, bars and hotels quit in August. 721,000 retail workers also left their jobs, as did 706,000 employees in professional business services and 534,000 workers in health care and social assistance.
In July, about 2.7% of the U.S. workforce quit their jobs.
There were 10.4 million job openings at the end of August, giving workers the ability to be picky. The Washington Post explains, “Normally, churn in the labor market reflects workers feeling more confident in the economy, willing to risk the security of their current job for a new opportunity.”
In a July essay, BBC provides context
There are a number of reasons people are seeking a change, in what some economists have dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. For some workers, the pandemic precipitated a shift in priorities, encouraging them to pursue a ‘dream job’, or transition to being a stay-at-home parent. But for many, many others, the decision to leave came as a result of the way their employer treated them during the pandemic.
In the long run, such a workforce transformation will be a positive thing, allowing more people to find satisfaction in their careers and for businesses to have happier employees. And it can allow more workers to make a living wage and contribute to the broader economy, easing the alarming gap between rich and poor.
In the short run, however, the worker shortage will continue to complicate the reopening of the global economy, contributing to rising prices, supply chain stress, product shortages and shipping delays.