Interest rates are rising, inflation is lingering at four-decade highs, the economy appears to be slowing and experts fear a recession is on the way. But Americans are still quitting their jobs at near-record rates in the face of growing economic uncertainty.
The percentage of American workers who quit their jobs set a record earlier this year and has only dropped slightly as the economy slows from two years of torrid growth. After reaching 2.9 percent this spring, the quits rate dropped to 2.7 percent in July, according to data released Tuesday by the Labor Department.
The idea of quitting a job amid a period of increased cost of living and a dubious economic future may seem counterintuitive. But the labor market has remained stacked in favor of workers, who see ample opportunities to boost their earnings to supplant increased costs from inflation.
“Despite recent declines, job openings still outnumber unemployed workers by a sizable margin, illustrating just how tight the labor market remains,” wrote AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab, in a Monday analysis.
There were roughly two open jobs for every unemployed American, according to Labor Department data, giving job seekers ample opportunities to find new jobs with better pay or working conditions. Businesses are still scrambling to find enough workers to keep up with consumer spending — which is well above pre-pandemic levels — from a workforce that remains smaller than it was before COVID-19.
“It seems possible that employer demand would need to cool significantly more before recruiters start to notice an easing in recruiting conditions,” Konkel wrote.
In other words, employers still have too many open jobs and not enough candidates to avoid boosting wages and other perks to find talent. And that means workers still have ample incentive to quit for a better-paying job, particularly with inflation still high.
Job seekers on Indeed.com are looking for ever-higher wages, Konkel explained. The number of Indeed users seeking jobs with a $20 per hour wage rose above those seeking $15 per hour in June 2022, and the number of jobseekers looking for $25 per hour is up 122 percent over the past 12 months.
Konkel attributed the spike in job seekers looking for more money to the steady increase in advertised wages and the inflation they’ve helped to feed.
“Once job seekers know it’s possible to attain a higher wage, their expectations may shift and act as a pull factor in searching for a higher dollar amount. In this case, the shift in job seeker expectations from searching for $15 to instead $20 is clear,” Konkel explained.
“On the flip side, inflation continues to take a bite out of workers’ paychecks,” she continued, noting that only 46 percent of workers saw wage gains that outpaced inflation.
The pressure to quit for a higher paying job has been highest in the private sector, where 3.5 percent of the workforce left their current employer in July. Workers in industries with historically low wages, tough working conditions and limited teleworking options have led the charge.
The leisure and hospitality sector posted a whopping 6.1 percent quit rate in July, down sharply from 6.9 percent a year ago but still nearly twice the national quit rate.
Restaurants and bars in particular have struggled to return to pre-pandemic employment levels despite rapidly raising wages. The pressure has also made it nearly impossible for those businesses to fire or lay off employees, even amid usual season turnover.
“Hospitality companies tell us that what was once a ‘one strike, you’re out’ rule for employees who failed to show up at work without notice is now more like a ‘ten strikes, you’re out’ rule. They cannot afford to fire workers because they cannot afford to replace them,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.
“The decline in terminations in industries like hospitality have been so large, they have more than offset the increase in layoffs in the tech sector,” she explained.
Quits have also remained high in retail (4 percent) and the transportation and warehousing sectors (3.5 percent), with both industries facing threats from a decline in goods spending and rising interest rates.
Even so, there are some signs of waning worker confidence, which may lead to a decline in quits.
ZipRecruiter’s job seeker confidence index dropped 4.5 points in August to an all-time low of 97.8, Pollak said, with a greater number of applicants looking for job security over higher wages.
“Since the pandemic, job seekers have been looking for higher pay, less stress, and greater flexibility. In August however, job security rose to the second-place spot in their priority ranking,” Pollak explained.
“One in four employed job seekers say they feel less secure about their current job than they did six months ago. Rising risk of a recession, paired with a wave of recent tech layoffs, has made employees more concerned about the precarity of their jobs.”
Employers added a stunning 528,000 jobs in July, while the unemployment rate ticked down to 3.5%, the lowest level in nearly 50 years, the Labor Department said on Friday.
Why it matters: It’s the fastest pace of jobs growth since February as the labor market continues to defy fears that the economy is heading into a recession.
- Economists expected the economy to add roughly 260,000 jobs in July.
- Job gains in May and June were a combined 28,000 higher than initially estimated.
The backdrop: The data comes at a delicate time for the U.S. economy. Growth has slowed as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates swiftly in an attempt to contain soaring inflation.
- Many economists and Fed officials alike are pointing to the ongoing strength of the labor market as a sign the economy has not entered a recession.
- Policymakers want to see some heat come off the labor market. They are hoping to see more moderate job growth as the economy cools, in order to ease inflation pressures.
Across industries, 4.54 million Americans quit or changed jobs in March, the highest level since December 2000, according to seasonally adjusted data released May 3 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The count is up from 4.38 million in February. In the healthcare and social assistance sector, 542,000 Americans left their jobs in March, compared to 561,000 the previous month, according to the bureau.
The number of job openings in the U.S. also hit a record high of 11.55 million in March, up from 11.34 million in February, according to the bureau. Job openings in the healthcare and social assistance sector remained similar in February and March, at around 2 million.
Although there continues to be churn in the labor market, Fitch Ratings projects the U.S. labor market will recover jobs lost during the pandemic by the end of August.
The U.S. added 431,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.6 percent in March, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department.
Job growth fell slightly short of expectations, as consensus estimates from economists projected a gain of roughly 490,000 jobs in March and a decline in the jobless rate to 3.7 percent.
But resilient consumer spending and historically strong demand for workers helped power the U.S. economy to another study job gain.
The Labor Department also revised the January and February job gains up by a combined 95,000, bringing the total of jobs added by the U.S. economy in 2022 up to 1,685,000 million.
More Americans who left the workforce during the pandemic appeared to be returning to the job hunt in March, a promising sign as businesses struggle to fill a record number of openings. The labor force participation rate ticked higher to 62.4 percent and the employment-population ratio—the proportion of working-age adults in the labor force—rose to 60.1 percent.
Wage growth also accelerated in March with average hourly earnings rising 5.6 percent over the past 12 months, up from 5.1 percent in February.
The wage growth comes as inflation batters the Biden administration and Democrats politically, contributing to the president’s approval ratings being stuck in the low 40s. This has contributed to the anxiety in his party in a midterm election year, as Democrats are worried they could lose both the House and Senate majorities in this fall’s elections.
Gas prices have risen further with the Russian war in Ukraine and the international sanctions on Moscow. President Biden on Thursday announced he would be released 1 million barrels of oil a day from the nation’s strategic reserves to try to offer some help to lower gas prices.
The administration has touted the strength of the job market and the overall economy in the face of attacks from Republicans on inflation. And the March report offered more good news.
Overall, job-seekers continued to enjoy ample opportunities to find work at businesses across the economy even in the face of the highest annual inflation in 40 years. And businesses hit hardest by the pandemic-driven recession were among the top job-gainers in March.
The leisure and hospitality industry added 112,000 jobs in March, with restaurants and bars adding 61,000 jobs and accommodation businesses adding 25,000. Employment in the sector is still down 1.5 million from the onset of the pandemic.
Professional and business services companies gained 102,000 jobs in March and retailers added 49,000 employees, pushing both sectors well above their pre-pandemic employment levels.
The manufacturing, construction, and financial sectors also saw strong jobs gains last month.
The strong March job haul is the latest in a string of stellar employment reports. The U.S. has gained an average of 562,000 jobs each month in 2022—the same rate as in 2021, when the country added a record-breaking 6.8 million jobs
Even so, steady monthly job growth has done little to bolster Biden’s approval ratings and voters’ views about his handling of the economy. While job growth, consumer spending, the stock market and property values rebounded rapidly from the recession, a 7.9 percent annual increase in prices has wiped out the political benefit of a strong economy otherwise.
U.S. jobless claims set a more than 50-year low last week as the red-hot labor market shows few signs of cooling in the near-term.
The Labor Department released its latest weekly jobless claims report Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main metrics from the print, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:
- Initial jobless claims, week ended March 19: 187,000 vs. 210,000 expected and a revised 215,000 during prior week
- Continuing claims, week ended March 12: 1.350 million vs. 1.400 million expected and a revised 1.417 million during prior week
At 187,000, new jobless claims improved for a back-to-back week and reached the lowest level since September 1969. Continuing claims also fell further to reach 1.35 million — the least since January 1970.
The labor market has remained a point of strength in the U.S. economy, with job openings still elevated but coming down from record levels as more workers rejoin the labor force from the sidelines.
Going forward, however, some economists warned that new cases of the fast-spreading sub-variant of Omicron, known as BA.2, could at least temporarily disrupt mobility and economic activity across the country. As of this week, about one-third of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have been attributed to the sub-variant, though overall new infections have still been trending down from January’s record high. The impact on the labor market — and on demand in the service sector especially — remains to be seen.
“Right now, U.S. cases are in the sweet spot between the bottom of the initial Omicron wave and the impending explosion in BA.2 cases, but this probably won’t last long,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note this week. “Our bet … is that the coming BA.2 wave will trigger a modest but visible pull-back in the discretionary services sector, thereby dampening consumption in the first month of the second quarter.”
Still, many economists and policymakers have pointed out that the labor market withstood prior disruptions due to the Omicron wave earlier this year. Non-farm payrolls grew more than expected in each of January and February despite the outbreak.
And Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reiterated his assessment of the labor market’s strength earlier this week, just days after calling the current job market “tight to an unhealthy level” in his post-Fed meeting press conference last week.
“The labor market has substantial momentum. Employment growth powered through the difficult Omicron wave, adding 1.75 million jobs over the past three months,” Powell said in a speech Monday. “By many measures, the labor market is extremely tight, significantly tighter than the very strong job market just before the pandemic.”
The tightness of the labor market has also strongly informed the Fed’s decisions in pressing ahead with tightening monetary policy, with the economy showing clear signs of strength and the ability to handle less accommodative financial conditions. Last week, the Fed raised interest rates by 25 basis points in its first rate hike since 2018. And St. Louis Fed President Jim Bullard, the lone dissenter of that decision who had called for a more aggressive 50 basis point rate hike last week, justified his vote in part given the strength of the U.S. labor market even in the face of decades-high rates of inflation.
“U.S. labor markets are today already stronger than they have been in a generation,” Bullard said in a statement.
Several hospitals across the U.S. are laying off workers over the next three months.
Below are nine hospitals and health systems that laid off employees or announced plans to implement layoffs since Oct. 1.
1. Community Hospital Long Beach (Calif.) plans to lay off 328 employees early next year, according to a notice filed with state regulators. The hospital said the layoffs are set to begin after Jan. 31, 2022, and may come in stages. The layoffs are a result of Community Hospital Long Beach ending acute care and closing its emergency department.
2. Watsonville (Calif.) Community Hospital is preparing to lay off 677 workers, according to a notice filed with the state Nov. 29. The hospital entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy Dec. 5 and announced a tentative sale agreement with the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project. If the sale to the nonprofit group or another buyer is finalized by Jan. 28, all 677 employees will be terminated by Watsonville Community Hospital. CEO Steven Salyer said all potential buyers are being asked to offer employment to the hospital’s workers. If the sale isn’t finalized, the hospital will close after the bankruptcy court authorizes those steps, and all employees would be terminated Jan. 28, according to the notice to the state. Funds made available through the bankruptcy process may allow the hospital to delay the layoffs.
3. Pensacola, Fla.-based Baptist Health Care said in a notice filed with state regulators that it is eliminating 233 jobs in February when it outsources various services to Wayne, Pa.-based Compass One Healthcare. Affected employees were offered positions with Compass One at the same or higher wages, according to the Nov. 22 layoff notice.
4. West Reading, Pa.-based Tower Health filed a notice in early November with state regulators indicating it would lay off 293 employees by Dec. 31. The health system said the layoffs would affect workers at Jennersville Hospital in West Grove, Pa., which Tower Health was planning to close by the end of the year. In late November, the health system announced it entered into a definitive agreement to sell Jennersville Hospital and another facility to Canyon Atlantic Partners, a hospital management firm based in Austin, Texas. The health system subsequently called off that deal. It plans to close Jennersville Hospital on Dec. 31 and Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville, Pa., on Jan. 31. The closures will result in the loss of more than 800 jobs, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.
5. Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City is laying off 56 workers in February, but affected employees will be offered employment with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to a notice filed with the state Nov. 8. The layoffs are due to the integration of electronic medical records systems at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to the notice.
6. Ascension Technologies, the IT subsidiary of St. Louis-based Ascension, outsourced about 330 tech jobs in November, according to a notice filed with the state. Affected employees could apply for other positions within Ascension Technologies or with the new vendor that took over the tech support for application and platforms, collaboration and end-user engineering, network and telecom and field services areas.
8. Kindred Hospital Northwest Indiana, a 70-bed long-term acute care hospital in Hammond, is closing, resulting in 110 layoffs, according to a notice filed with the state in August. The layoffs started Oct. 10. Kindred said the closure is a result of Mishawaka, Ind.-based Franciscan Health’s decision to downsize its Hammond hospital, a move that will eliminate Kindred’s space on the campus.
9. Garland (Texas) Behavioral Hospital, part of King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services, is closing and laying off its 119 employees, according to the Dallas Morning News. The layoffs started Oct. 7, according to a notice filed with the state.