Workers Called It Quits in August As Virus Cases Surged

Workers quit in record numbers, even as job openings fell from an all-time high

Waitress wearing face mask stands with back to a table of customers
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Even with a slight retreat from the record high volume of job openings seen in July, an unprecedented number of employees walked away from their jobs in August, put off by a surge in COVID-19 cases and seemingly confident about finding something better.

The share of employees who quit—2.9% of all those on payrolls—was the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track in 2006 and marked the third record-breaking month for quits this year, according to the BLS’s monthly report Tuesday. The food service industry saw a record 6.8% of its workers walk off the job as the delta variant’s onslaught made in-person jobs seem like a riskier proposition.

Meanwhile, the number of job openings fell for the first time this year from a record high in July, although the 10.4 million unfilled positions were the second highest since at least 2000, when the data series began. The decrease in open jobs wasn’t due to a hiring spree either: Hiring fell for the second month in a row, dropping 6.5% from July. The job market’s poor showing was consistent with previous data that showed the pandemic’s late-summer resurgence put the brakes on hiring.

“More people quit, again, stressing the system that is already stressed,” Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Economics, wrote in a commentary. “Again ... all highlighting the immense problems businesses are dealing with. Not enough people. Not enough equipment and/or parts. Meantime, customers are waiting for their orders, or waiting to place their orders. What a strange world this is. But, whenever the workers return ... there will be jobs available for all of them. Just don't wait too long.”

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