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Record Job Openings Aren't Enticing Workers to Quit

The Wall Street Journal logo The Wall Street Journal 10/11/2017 Eric Morath

Workers are no more likely to tell their boss to “take this job and shove it” than they were two years ago.

The rate at which workers quit their jobs—seen by many economists as a sign of confidence in the labor market—fell slightly to a seasonally adjusted 2.1% in August from 2.2% in July, according to the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known as Jolts, released Wednesday.

The quits rate, or the share of employed people who voluntarily leave their jobs in a month, has held nearly steady for two years after slowly climbing after the recession ended in mid-2009. The sideways move in the quits rate comes at a time when the unemployment rate has fallen to a 16-year low and the number of available jobs has touched the highest level on records back to 2000.

The quits rate is trending at levels recorded before the recession began, but below 2001 rates. That could suggest that years of steady hiring and labor shortages reported in several industries have not yet made workers feel as if they’re likely to find something better if they leave their current jobs.

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The unwillingness to quit could be a factor holding back better wage growth, reflecting workers' relative lack of bargaining power. It might also suggest other factors—such as the unwillingness to move for work, or satisfaction with work-life balance—is keeping workers in their jobs despite ample opportunities elsewhere.

The number of job openings in the U.S. slipped slightly in August from July’s record high, but was the third highest monthly level on record. There were 6.08 million seasonally adjusted openings during the month, down from 6.14 million in July.

The rate at which workers were hired fell slightly in August, and the rate at which employees were laid off or were fired held steady. Figures can be volatile from month to month, but there has been little change in the trend for the hiring, quits and discharge rates since mid-2015.

The August data largely reflects the labor market before hurricanes caused widespread disruptions in the South. The primary jobs report, which was released last week for the month of September, showed a significant impact from those storms. That report showed the unemployment rate fell to 4.2%, but payroll growth declined for the first time since 2010.

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