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4.3 million people quit their jobs in January

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/9/2022 Abha Bhattarai
Employers reported 11.3 million job openings at the end of January as a tight labor market continues to give workers the upper hand. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier) © Marta Lavandier/AP Employers reported 11.3 million job openings at the end of January as a tight labor market continues to give workers the upper hand. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Some 4.3 million Americans quit or changed jobs in January, edging down a bit compared with December but still in record-high territory in yet another sign that workers continue to have the upper hand in a tight labor market.

Employers hired 6.5 million people in January, while reporting 11.3 million job openings that month, as the omicron coronavirus variant picked up speed in many parts of the country, according to a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It is, by many measures, the tightest labor market ever,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. “Employers are having to play tug-of-war to get half an employee.”

The number of people who quit their jobs decreased slightly, by 151,000, in January. Even so, quits in the finance and insurance sector rose by 30,000, an indication that white-collar workers are looking for new opportunities as many offices move ahead with reopening plans.

The latest report follows months of steady gains in the labor market. The U.S. economy added a whopping 678,000 jobs in February, sending the unemployment rate to a pandemic low of 3.8 percent, the Labor Department reported last week. As hiring picks up steam, many Americans — particularly women and those over 55 — who left the labor force early in the pandemic are gradually coming back.

U.S. adds 678,000 jobs in February, with labor market nearing full recovery from pandemic

Even so, job openings — which are up more than 55 percent from January 2021 — continue to outpace available employees. That has led to a situation where workers increasingly have the upper hand, forcing companies to raise wages and offer a range of new perks to attract and keep employees.

“We saw hiring, quits and openings all shoot up in 2021 as the economy grew very fast,” said Guy Berger, principal economist at LinkedIn. “The labor market is extremely tight — even tighter than conventional measures like the unemployment rate would suggest.”

All told, nearly 50 million Americans have quit or changed jobs in the past year. Pollak says she expects the high rate of job quits to continue in coming months as more companies begin requiring workers to come back in person. More than 60 percent of job seekers on ZipRecruiter say they would prefer remote positions, she said.

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“Flexibility and remote work are becoming more important,” she said. “We’re already seeing that when asked to come back to the office, people are bolting to the exits in search of fully remote opportunities.”

Video: Strong jobs report already 'yesterday's news' -strategist (Reuters)

In Austin, Michael Cano quit his $15-an-hour customer service job in early January after managers mandated a return to the office. Cano, who lives with his young granddaughter, says he didn’t feel safe working in a building without mask requirements at a time when local coronavirus cases were skyrocketing.

Within a week, he began a higher-paying job as a dispatcher for the city of Austin. He makes about $20 an hour and has the option to work from home most days. When he does have to show up, he’s one of only a few people in the office.

“It’s quite ideal,” the 42-year-old said. “I am so glad I quit.”

The booming economy, combined with a growing desire for work-life balance, have prompted millions to leave their jobs in search of better opportunities. But some who quit say it hasn’t been quite as easy to find new work as they had hoped.

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Britta Rhude, who lives in Marinette, Wis., left her finance job in January after months of working 50- to 60-hour weeks with little support. The stress from work was becoming debilitating and taking a toll on her health, she said.

“I didn’t want to quit my job — I very much liked the company I worked for,” said Rhude, 31, who was an internal auditor. “But I was living in a constant state of stress and just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Life after quitting: What happened next to the workers who left their jobs

Rhude has applied for nearly 20 jobs since, in banking and risk management, but has yet to hear back from any of them. She’s been relying on savings to tide her through, though she’s worried she’ll run out of money by the end of the month.

“Part of the reason I quit my job is because you hear that the market is so good right now, anyone can go out and get a job,” she said. “But that hasn’t been my experience.”


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