Why American workers are quitting in record numbers

The 360 gives you a variety of perspectives on today's top stories and debates.
What's Happening

Over the past few months, the number of Americans quitting their jobs has reached record levels in a phenomenon economists call the Great Resignation. This is the highest level of quitters since 2020, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking them.

High rates of workers are quitting in all industries, but it is especially evident for frontline businesses such as restaurants, hotels and retail stores, which have seen a rise in quit rates. The current quit rates contrast sharply with the early days of the coronavirus epidemic, when the number quits fell to the lowest level in a decade due to COVID-related closures putting millions of Americans outof work.

The Great Resignation occurs at a time when many businesses are having difficulty finding workers to fill vacant positions. There were 10.4 Million job openings in August, a slight decrease from the 11.1 million that was the record for the month.

Economists believe that high quit rates indicate a healthy economy. This is because it indicates workers are optimistic about their future and can use leverage to improve their situation. However, there are concerns that too many companies may not be able to fill their staffing needs, which could lead to a slowdown in economic recovery and increase supply chain problems.

Why debate?

Experts believe that the Great Resignation is not a single reason why so many Americans are leaving their jobs. Employer vaccine mandates are not included on this list. They don't seem to have led to a large number of people quitting.

The most common reason is simply that workers are tired. High quit rates in customer-facing and health care jobs suggest that these workers have exhausted themselves after 18 months of additional hours, confrontations about COVID mitigation rules, and fear of contracting the virus. White-collar workers may want to keep some elements of pandemic-era work, such as remote work and flexible hours, and be willing to continue their work while their employers move back into the office.

Continue the story

Others view the Great Resignation to be a sign of a significant shift in power dynamics between workers and employers. Although Labor Bureau data does not indicate whether quitters are looking for another job, record numbers of job openings have made it easier to quit. Many people have had to struggle financially due to the pandemic. However, many Americans have increased their savings so they can absorb any job changes. This allows workers to choose to leave unhappy jobs and pursue a job that is more satisfying.

Experts argue that the pandemic had an even greater and more lasting impact than these temporary influences on Americans' relationship to work. Many people have made the decision to make work less important because of the human tragedy and sometimes indifference by their employers over the past year.

Next steps

The Big Unanswered Question about the Great Resignation: Is it a temporary phenomenon caused by extreme circumstances, or a longer-lasting shift in attitude toward work? Some economists believe that if it is temporary, there may be a correction in near future where quits will drop significantly.

Perspectives

Frontline workers are tired

Frontline workers in the hospitality, food service, and health care industries are pushed to their limits by clients and employers. They decide that the long hours, low pay, imbalance, and abuse of their employer and clientele are unacceptable trade-offs for the mental and physical well being of themselves and their families.

With the additional stressors of the pandemic, it was impossible to do hard jobs.

Covid-19 brought out the worst aspects of systemic problems. Without the benefit of child care or welfare, workers were expected to show up each day and put their health at risk for a living wage. Many found it difficult to accept what was before. Vox Laura Entis

There are many job opportunities, so it is easy for workers to find better work.

People have choices. People have choices.

Workers favorably influenced the balance of power.

Workers have been working on their backs for at least two generations. Now, we are seeing a tight labor market and it is becoming more clear that it will remain so. It's going to be a workers market and they are empowered. They are beginning to exercise their collective power.

The pandemic caused a shift in the attitudes of generations towards work.

The Great Resignation does not represent a sudden exit from work, but the culmination of a long march towards freedom. Psychologists documented a shift in the importance of work over a decade ago. Millennials are more interested in jobs that provide vacation and leisure time than Gen Xers or baby boomers. They cared less about net wealth than net freedom. Adam Grant Wall Street Journal

During the COVID recession, many employers took their employees for granted.

Since forever, it was believed that employers could do almost anything in downturns; employees required work, and would be thankful to have job frills and other niceties. The common thread running through almost all of the Great Resignation departures that we are witnessing is the refusal to accept the unacceptable. Phillip Kane, Inc.

Millions were forced to reevaluate their priorities after the pandemic.

It is well-known that human beings are compelled to ask existential questions when they come in contact with illness and death. What gives me purpose and happiness? Does that align with my current life? In many cases, these reflections will lead you to life pivots.

Many workers have more financial freedom thanks to pandemic relief programs

Many pandemic relief checks, a rent moratorium and student-loan forgiveness allow everyone, especially those with low incomes, more freedom to quit their jobs and move on to something better.

The current wave of quitting is simply compensating for the low quit rate of last year

It is possible that some of these mid-level workers may have waited to transition out of their jobs due to uncertainty from the pandemic. This means that the recent uptake in business could also be due more than a year of unresolved resignations.

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images

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