The Number of Americans Quitting Their Jobs in 2021 — And Will It Continue To Grow?
Texas A&M’s Anthony Klotz has been validated as one of the great pre-pandemic prognosticators. The organizational psychologist coined the term “Great Resignation” in 2019 when he predicted a voluntary mass exodus from the workforce in the near future.
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In April 2021, Klotz’s premonition began to come true.
It was the start of a three-month run that would see 11.5 million Americans quit their jobs, and the workforce evacuation has only increased since. The moment changed the employer-worker dynamic, redefined the expectations of employees across the economy and created a labor market defined by businesses struggling to keep enough staff on hand to meet demand.
Here’s how it all went down.
April 2021 was roughly one year since the start of the pandemic, when unemployment jumped by 10.3 percentage points to 14.7%, which was both the biggest increase and the highest rate since the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) first started keeping records in 1948.
How things can change in a year.
The Great Resignation started in April when a record-high 3.8 million workers quit their jobs in a single month, many of whom went off to look for higher pay, better conditions and a healthier work-life balance. The national quit rate of 3.1% was the highest since BLS started keeping records in 2000. The accommodation and food service sector took the biggest hit by far when 5.4% of the industry resigned en masse. It was a storyline that would continue through to this day.
The next month in May, even more accommodation and food service workers — 5.7% of the industry — quit their jobs. It was part of a second straight month of sweeping, economy-wide resignations as 3.6 million people walked away from their employers, according to BLS.
It was less than April’s record high, but enough to give economists plenty of reason to believe that the previous record wasn’t a fluke and that something bigger was happening.
In the first month of summer, the onslaught continued when 3.87 million people joined the Great Resignation, including 5.5% of the accommodation and food service industry. By this time, it became impossible for economists to ignore that an incredible 11.5 million people had left their jobs and joined the growing revolution in just three months.
According to CNBC, many of them had moved onto higher-paying jobs.
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The Great Resignation tallied 4.03 million new adherents in July as national quits topped 4 million for the first time. The number represented 2.7 million percent of the workforce. Always the hardest hit, the accommodation and food service industry lost 5.6% of its labor force.
In August, accommodation and food service sector losses grew by a full percentage point over the previous month’s record when an incredible 6.6% of the industry’s workforce went looking for greener pastures. In total, employers saw a record 4.27 million workers wave goodbye — 2.9% of the national workforce.
September, the most recent month for which the BLS published data, saw the trend continue. Incredibly, it was the third month in a row with 4 million-plus resignations — more than 4.43 million, actually, or a full 3% of the labor force. Just as it was when the Great Resignation started in April, the accommodations and food service industry saw the greatest losses as 6.6% of the workforce evaporated in a single month, same as the month before.
2022 Is Fast Approaching — Will It Continue?
Also known as the Big Quit, the Great Resignation was the central storyline of the drama that swept the 2021 labor market. How long can it possibly last and will 2022 bring more of the same?
It’s certainly possible.
After all, the Great Resignation forced employers to use bonuses, salary increases and supercharged benefits to hire and retain talent — and those very incentives could cause even more people to quit.
“Most economists predict the Great Resignation will likely impact our economy well into 2022,” said Kurtis Hine, founder and CEO of Spartan Capital Group. “Job seekers are benefiting more than ever from employers offering incentives to attract candidates to fill the vacancies at their companies.”
The future, however, is not certain. CNBC, for example, recently made a compelling argument that the Great Resignation wasn’t so much a mass strike as it was a mass response to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the pandemic. When the virus (hopefully) begins to fade in 2022, so, too, might the Big Quit.
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