Economy

A record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November

Commuters arrive from Metro North Railroad trains in Grand Central Station in New York.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

Workers quit their jobs in record numbers in November while the total employment openings pulled back a bit, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

The so-called quits level surged to 4.53 million for the month, according to the department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. That represented an 8.9% increase from October and broke September’s high-water mark of 4.36 million. As a percentage of the workforce, the quits rate of 3% matched September’s mark.

In a phenomenon that has been labeled the Great Resignation, workers have been leaving their positions partly in response to increased mobility in the labor market as job openings strongly outnumber those looking for work.

For November, the number of job openings totaled 10.56 million, lower than the 11 million estimate from FactSet and a decline from 11.09 million in October. The level, however, was well ahead of the 6.88 million total of those out of work and looking for jobs in November, according to the government’s nonfarm payrolls report for that month.

The job openings rate was 6.6%, down from about 7% in October but well ahead of the 4.5% from the prior year.

“The Great Resignation shows no sign of abating, with quits hitting a new record. The question is why, and the answers are for starkly different reasons,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “COVID-19 burnout and fear are continuing, but also, many Americans have the confidence to quit given the high level of job openings and rising pay.”

A separate economic report Tuesday showed that manufacturing activity in December was slower than expected.

The ISM Manufacturing Index registered a 58.7% reading, below the 60% expectation and a drop from 61.1% in November.

The biggest subtractions from the index came in supplier deliveries, which fell 7.3 percentage points, and a surprise plunge in prices, which dropped 14.2 percentage points at a time when inflation is running at its highest level in nearly 40 years. Survey responses indicated prices are declining some for steel and oil.

A reading over 50% signals the manufacturing sector is expanding in general, while a reading under 50% is a sign it is mainly contracting.

On the upside, the employment index rose to 54.2%, a gain of 0.9 percentage point and a sign that hiring remains strong.

The JOLTS report showed, though, that there are some displacements happening in the labor market.

At an industry level, the openings rate in leisure and hospitality slid to 8.7% from 10.1%, due a drop in accommodation and food services to 8.9% from 10.5%. The hire rate in leisure and hospitality edged higher to 8.1% but the quits rate jumped a full percentage point to 6.4%.

The health-care and social assistance industry also showed stress as Covid cases surged, with the quits rate in that field hitting 3% for the month, the highest on record.

The report comes three days before the Labor Department releases its closely watched nonfarm payrolls count for December. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expect growth of 422,000 jobs and the unemployment rate to nudge lower to 4.1%.

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