47 Million Americans Quit Their Jobs in 2021, Labor Department Stats Reveal

by Jennifer Shea

Roughly 4.3 million workers left their jobs in December, bringing the quit total for 2021 to 47.4 million people, Labor Department data shows. Last year’s resignation numbers broke records as workers, especially low-wage ones, left their jobs for new ones with higher pay and better work conditions.

The Great Resignation is putting pressure on employers to raise pay, CNBC reports. Some employers are luring new workers with signing bonuses, higher salaries and remote work options. They’re also stepping up retention efforts with development and training opportunities.

“All of this is uncharted territory,” Rucha Vankudre, a senior economist at Emsi Burning Glass, a labor-market analytics firm, told CNBC. “Employers are doing what they can at this point. What else can they do? We’ll have to see. They’ve done the things we’ve expected them to do at increasing rates. But what’s next?”

Many Workers, Especially Women and Caregivers, Remain Sidelined

By December, the U.S. had 58 unemployed workers for every 100 job openings. Some employed workers are taking advantage of those openings to switch jobs. Still, there remains a significant backlog of people sidelined by the effects of the pandemic. And those people just aren’t taking jobs. Only 6.3 million people accepted new jobs in December out of a total 10.9 million openings.

The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent last month. But there were still 2.9 million fewer people in the workforce than there were in February of 2020, the month before the pandemic hit.

Some workers, particularly women and caregivers, can’t rejoin the labor force due to caregiving responsibilities or health vulnerabilities around the virus.

“The problem right now is there aren’t enough bodies to fill jobs,” Vankudre told CNBC. “Without a major change in the labor force participation rate or employer behavior, like deciding they are willing to let positions stay empty instead of hiring for them, it seems unlikely things will change.”

January Private-Sector Jobs Data Shows Slight Pullback in Demand

Separately, private-sector data for January showed employer demand for workers cooling a bit, per the Wall Street Journal. By Jan. 21, the U.S. had roughly 10.8 million job openings, down one million from the end of December, according to an analysis by the jobs website Indeed.

Hiring also appears to have slowed in January. A Journal survey of economists found that an estimated 150,000 jobs were likely added to U.S. payrolls last month. The monthly average for 2021 was 537,000 jobs.

Those numbers nonetheless reveal a labor market in which the number of available jobs has far outpaced the number of people looking for work. And that has resulted in high turnover and rising wages.

The latter is still not keeping pace with inflation. Even as wages rose 4.7 percent last year, the consumer price index surged 7 percent, suggesting pay will have to rise faster to compensate for skyrocketing consumer prices.