Record Number of American Workers Quit Jobs in September

Nearly a million workers quit in leisure and hospitality businesses alone, reflecting the competition for workers after pandemic-induced shutdowns.


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The number of workers quitting their jobs in September was the highest on record.

A hiring sign at a retail store in Manhattan. There were 10.4 million job openings in the United States at the end of September.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Nov. 12, 2021, 11:32 a.m. ET

Employers are still struggling to fill millions of open jobs — and to hold onto the workers they already have.

More than 4.4 million workers quit their jobs voluntarily in September, the Labor Department said Friday. That was up from 4.3 million in August and was the most in the two decades the government has been keeping track. Nearly a million workers quit their jobs in leisure and hospitality businesses alone, reflecting the steep competition for workers there as the industry rebuilds from last year’s pandemic-induced shutdowns.

Record Number of People Quit Jobs in September

Number of People Who Left Their Jobs Voluntarily by Month

Note: Seasonally adjusted. Voluntary quits exclude retirements.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

By The New York Times

There were 10.4 million job openings in the United States at the end of September, down slightly from August but still extraordinarily high by historical standards.

Actual hiring has been slower to rebound, however, and was essentially flat in September, as businesses struggled to attract candidates. There were roughly 75 unemployed workers for every 100 job openings in September, the lowest ratio on record. Separate data released last week by the Labor Department showed that job growth rebounded in October but that the labor force barely grew, suggesting that employers’ hiring challenges are continuing.

“You’re essentially seeing demand continuing to increase without an offsetting increase in talent,” Ryan Sutton, a district director for Robert Half International, a staffing firm. “Until some new talent comes in, until we get employees who are on the sidelines back into the market, it’s very likely this is going to continue.”

Economists say a number of factors explain workers’ slow return. The pandemic is continuing to disrupt child care, making it hard for some parents to work; other workers are worried about contracting the virus or spreading it to high-risk family members. Many Americans have also built up their savings during the pandemic, allowing them to be choosier about jobs.

The Status of U.S. Jobs

The pandemic continues to impact the U.S. economy in a multitude of ways. One key factor to keep an eye on is the job market and how it changes as the economic recovery moves forward.

Jobs Report: The American economy added 531,000 jobs in October, a sharp rebound from the prior month.Analysis: The new jobs numbers present a straightforward, sunny story: Americans are going back to work at a rapid clip.Holiday Hiring Scramble: From signing bonuses to higher wages to college tuition, retailers are using perks to attract workers ahead of the holidays.A ‘Workers Economy’: With plenty of options — and frustrated after laboring through lockdowns — workers find they have more leverage.Inflation’s Psychological Effects: Americans are flush with cash and jobs. They also believe the economy is in terrible shape.

The labor crunch is giving workers the upper hand in negotiations. Wages have risen sharply in recent months, particularly in service jobs, although in other industries pay is lagging the pace of inflation.

The recent rise in the number of workers quitting suggests that many are taking advantage of their leverage to take better-paying jobs, or to look for them. At the same time, understaffing in many businesses may be putting stress on remaining workers, leading even more people to leave their jobs.

“We are seeing big pickups in quits in the industries that are having the hardest time hiring right now,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for the job site Indeed.

Kaylie Sweeting worked as a bartender in Short Hills, N.J., through most of the pandemic, despite concerns about interacting with unmasked customers and frustration about low wages. But when the restaurant pressured a colleague to come to work sick this summer, Ms. Sweeting quit.

“The job was absolutely no longer worth it,” she said. “I was hurt that a company that I gave my time to did not seem to prioritize me or my safety.”

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

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

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