WASHINGTON (AP) – One of the reasons American employers struggle to fill jobs was clearly illustrated in a report on Tuesday: Americans are quitting en masse.
The Labor Department said departures jumped to 4.3 million in August, the highest recorded in December 2000, and from 4 million in July. Hiring also slowed in August, according to the report, and the number of available jobs fell to 10.4 million, from a record 11.1 million the previous month.
The data strongly suggests that the Delta variant wreaked havoc on the job market in August. As COVID-19 cases increased, quits jumped in restaurants and hotels and increased in other public jobs, such as retail and education.
Departures have also increased the most in the South and Midwest, the government said, with the two regions experiencing the worst COVID outbreaks in August.
When workers leave, this is generally seen as a good sign for the job market, as people typically leave their jobs when they already have other positions or are confident they can find one. The sharp increase in August includes good news: it likely reflects the fact that with employers desperate for workers and higher wages, many workers think they can get better pay elsewhere.
But the fact that the increase in quits has been heavily concentrated in sectors involving close contact with the public is a sign that fear of COVID has also played a significant role. Many people may have quit even without another job to take.
Hires in September were weak for a second consecutive month, the government said on Friday, with just 194,000 jobs created, although the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%.
Tuesday’s report, known as the Job Openings and Workforce Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, provides a more detailed picture of the labor market. The hiring reported on Friday is a net total, after accounting for job gains and departures, retirements and layoffs. Tuesday’s report includes the raw numbers and shows total hires in August fell sharply to 6.3 million from 6.8 million in July.