- In November, 4.5 million workers quit their jobs, including 1 million in leisure and hospitality.
- It further cemented 2021 as the year of quitting, with eight months of nearly record quits.
- The labor head said workers may be seeking better jobs or dealing with virus and childcare concerns.
The past year cemented a new American pastime: quitting your job.
For eight months, workers left at nearly record highs. In November, the most recent month that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released data for, a record 4.5 million workers said, “I quit.” That’s 3% of the whole workforce.
One big clue as to why so many Americans are leaving their jobs comes from who, exactly, is quitting. A record-breaking 1 million leisure and hospitality left their jobs in November, with low-wage sectors disproportionately leading departures. With hiring still robust, that suggests that the pay of many low-wage employers won’t cut it anymore.
At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data release showed that the economy added just 199,000 jobs in December — a far cry from the 450,000 payrolls economists predicted.
Following the release of the jobs data, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told Insider that there were many reasons people were quitting — and homed in on three reasons that might explain the number of quits and low payrolls.
1. People want better work
“I think a lot of people are looking to better themselves,” Walsh said. “They’re quitting the job that they’re in, and they’re going to be looking for better-paying jobs and more opportunities.”
In December, the jobs site Indeed released a survey of 1,000 workers who had left at least two jobs since March 2020. Of those respondents, 92% said: “The pandemic made them feel life is too short to stay in a job they weren’t passionate about.”
When it comes to the November quitters, Nick Bunker, the economic-research director at Indeed, previously told Insider that “lots of workers in those lower-wage industries seem to be leaving jobs for greener pastures, where they can get higher wages.”
Walsh added “that’s why it’s important for us to make investments in workforce development” and job training.
2. They’re worried about COVID-19
“A lot of people obviously are concerned about the virus as well,” Walsh said. Fears for personal health and of contracting the virus have continually been cited as one major driver of pandemic labor shortages. That’s especially salient right now, as the US has had a surge in cases amid the rise of the Omicron variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 705,264 new COVID-19 cases on January 5, which came after a huge spike beginning in mid-December.
That could also point to why workers were leaving the primarily in-person leisure and hospitality industry. In November, even pre-Omicron, the country was regularly logging tens of thousands of cases.
3. Childcare remains hard
“Childcare is a major issue in this country,” Walsh said, adding: “It’s not being supported in a lot of ways right now.”
He said 100,000 people had left the childcare sector since February 2020. Insider previously reported that likely aggravated childcare deserts, areas where the number of children outnumber licensed care slots by at least three to one. Several childcare workers previously told Insider that while they loved their jobs, they were considering leaving over low pay and hard working conditions.
In November, the US lost daycare workers for the second month in a row, shedding 2,100 jobs in that sector.
“We have to do more to support childcare,” Walsh said. For example, the stalled Build Back Better Act would lower childcare costs, increase its accessibility, and aim to institute universal pre-K. But that legislation is on the back burner.