By CHRISTOPHER RUGABER Economics Writer AP
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 resignations jumped to 4.3 million in August, the highest being 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 is helping to fill a looming headache in the labor market: hiring slowed sharply in August and September, even as the number of jobs posted was close to record levels. Over the past year, open jobs have increased 62%. Still, overall hiring, as measured by Tuesday’s report, actually declined slightly over that time frame.
The government said Friday that job gains were weak for a second straight month in September, with just 194,000 jobs added, although the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%. Friday’s hiring figure is a net total, after factoring in job gains and departures, retirements and layoffs. Tuesday’s report, known as the Job Openings and Workforce Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, includes raw numbers and shows total hires in August fell sharply, to 6.3 million against 6.8 million in July.
The data “highlights the immense problems facing companies,” Jennifer Lee, economist at BMO Capital Markets, said in an email. “Not enough people. Not enough equipment and / or parts. During this time, customers wait for their orders, or wait to place their orders. What a strange world it is.
The jump in departures strongly suggests that fear of the delta variant is partly responsible for the shortage of workers. In addition to leading to quitting smoking, fear of the disease has probably caused many unemployed people not to seek or take up employment.
As COVID-19 cases increased in August, resignations skyrocketed in restaurants and hotels from the previous month and increased in other public jobs, such as retail and education.
Compared to a year ago, the number of people leaving their restaurant and hotel jobs has almost doubled.
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, it is generally seen as a good sign for the job market, as people usually 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.
The sharp increase in job vacancies also has an international dimension: Job vacancies reached a record high in the UK, although this was in part due to the fact that many European workers left the UK after Brexit.
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