Recession fears are rising. Why are people still quitting their jobs?

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.”

U.S. adds whopping 528,000 jobs in July as labor market booms

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.

More Americans are quitting — and job openings hit record high

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.

During the pandemic, hospital CEOs are among those who have joined the list of workers quitting. Additionally, older, tenured employees in America are part of the trend.

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.

7 hospitals laying off workers

Several hospitals are trimming their workforces due to financial and operational challenges, and some are offering affected workers new positions.

1. Watsonville (Calif.) Community Hospital is preparing to lay off 658 workers, according to a notice filed with the state and shared with Becker’s Hospital Review. The hospital, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December, expects the layoffs to occur between May 16 and May 23. 

2. Toledo, Ohio-based ProMedica’s health plan, Paramount, is laying off about 200 employees in July after losing a Medicaid contract. Anthem acquired Paramount’s Medicaid contract, and ProMedica and Anthem have been working to identify open roles for employees affected by the layoffs.

3. NYC Test & Trace Corps, the city’s initiative for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, is ending universal contact tracing by the end of April. NYC Health + Hospitals, which leads the program in collaboration with the city’s department of health and other agencies, is planning to lay off 874 workers when the program scales back, according to a notice filed with state regulators March 4. The health system said affected temporary employees will be laid off at the end of April. Managerial employees affected by the layoffs will have their employment terminated between May 13 and May 27, according to the notice. 

4. MarinHealth Medical Center is laying off 104 revenue cycle and supply chain employees in April after entering into a contract with Optum to provide those services, according to a notice filed with state regulators in February. Greenbrae, Calif.-based MarinHealth said that as a result of the contract with Optum, all non-contractual revenue cycle and supply chain employees will be terminated from employment with the hospital on April 9. Optum is offering jobs to most workers affected by the layoffs. Employees who accept an offer will begin employment with Optum on the first work day following separation from MarinHealth, a spokesperson for the hospital told Becker’s Hospital Review

5. St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., is laying off 49 employees, including 21 registered nurses, when it stops providing mental health services in April, according to a notice filed with state regulators.

6. West Reading, Pa.-based Tower Health closed Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville, Pa., on Jan. 31. As a result of the closure, 534 employees were laid off Feb. 7, according to a notice filed with state regulators. 

7. Community Hospital Long Beach (Calif.) shut down and surrendered its acute care license to the state in December, according to the Long Beach Post. The hospital laid off 328 employees early this year, according to a notice filed with state regulators. The hospital said the layoffs would begin Feb. 1 and may come in stages. The hospital’s owner is planning to transition the facility into a behavioral health and wellness campus.