Is a “great resignation” really a “great job switch”?

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Millions of Americans have voluntarily left their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the quitting rate reaching a record 3% — 4.5 million people — in November 2021. So where have all those workers gone? Chris Decker, professor of economics at the University of Nebraska Omaha, says the pandemic has accelerated the retirement of some older workers. “A lot of people have been furloughed or may have been laid off, and they’re probably in their mid-to-late 50s,” Decker says. “A lot, from what I’ve been able to glean, have chosen an early retirement path, and I think that’s the kind of upside that we’ve seen.” The latest figures indicate that the smoking cessation rate is 2.9%. So while 4.4 million workers decided to leave their jobs in February 2022, about 6.7 million people were hired during the same time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. says Jay Zagorsky, a senior lecturer at Boston University’s Kostrom School of Business, who doesn’t espouse the theory that COVID-19 has pushed more people into retirement. “The Great Resignation is, in some ways, real. In other ways, it’s somewhat of a myth.” An anecdote, in part, because quit rate data has only been collected since December 2000, which means there are no official BLS numbers from before 2000 to compare with today’s numbers. “Great Job Switch” Also, the fact that 6.7 million people were hired in February suggests something else may be going on, according to Zagorsky. “It’s not so much … about the ‘great quit’ — like quitting and getting out of everyone and, you know, writing the Great American Novel or getting on with their families,” he says. “Instead, a lot of people quit, but get rehired elsewhere. They change jobs. I don’t call it the ‘great quit’ but the ‘great job switch.'” But the “great job switch” doesn’t happen everywhere. For example, government employees, for the most part, stay where they are. Smoking cessation rates are highest in the leisure and hospitality industries, such as hotels, restaurants and bars, as well as in retail. “We’re also seeing it among young people, especially geographically, in the South,” Zagorski says. “Why is that? This, I can’t tell you.” Young people may be furthering their education, Decker says. “I think a lot of people have decided to go back to school full time rather than go straight back into the workforce after the holidays…or actually lay off,” he says. “I know our university is seeing an increase in enrollment in some of our professional degree programmes.” Trending government data indicates that, barring some declines, smoking cessation rates in the United States have risen steadily in the 20 years leading up to the pandemic. “The story in my mind is that the United States has always had exceptionally high quit rates,” Zagorski says. “We have a highly volatile labor market. The question is, do we have a highly volatile labor market?” A recent Harris/USA Today poll found that 20% of people — 1 in 5 — who quit within the past two years now regret it. Twenty-five percent said they miss the work culture in their previous workplace. Zagorski says people need to better understand what a job entails before they take it, while employers need to understand that the attractiveness of a job involves more than money. “Does my job matter? Do I help others other than myself? Do I get positive feedback? All these kinds of things have nothing to do with pay but have a lot to do with why people quit,” Zagorski says. “People quit for non-financial reasons. People need to feel valued and not be abused and disrespected. If people feel valued, if they feel valued, if they feel like they are an important part of an organization, they tend not to quit.” Decker expects labor demand to remain strong over the long term, while labor supply will be challenging as America deals with an aging population. Labor supply will be a particular problem in the Midwest, where Decker lives and works, as young, educated workers move to larger cities. He sees one potential solution, which could be politically controversial. “Reconsider immigration policies to see if there is some way to balance the flow of immigration, perhaps with a somewhat less harsh and difficult political environment, to one that may be more based on numbers and potential impacts on the workforce,” Decker says.

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