The Labor Department’s monthly “JOLTS” report is one of the official U.S. economic data series that I stopped covering during the CCP Virus era. After all, the results seemed to be so overwhelmingly driven by pandemic-specific disruptions, and therefore so unrelated to the fundamental state of the U.S. economy.
I’m still wary of putting too much stock in JOLTS, which stands for Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. As the name suggests, it tracks how many positions at American businesses (including in government) are vacant, how many workers are quitting, how many are getting fired or laid off, and how many are getting hired, and it’s one of the key sets of statistics that have revealed both the extent of the labor shortages marking the economy and of what’s been called the “Great Resignation” – a major and indeed record increase in the numbers and percentages of workers voluntarily leaving their employers.
Yet since this development has so clearly (at least to me) stemmed from pandemicky circumstances, I assumed that it would turn out to be largely “transitory” (to use the Federal Reserve’s now “retired” description of elevated inflation).
So why this JOLTS-y post? Because this morning’s latest report, which takes the story through November, does show signs of normalization in those jobs quits. To be sure, the absolute numbers of quits hit yet another record – 4.527 million. In fact, that total represents the seventh straight month in which this quits level topped the pre-CCP Virus high of 3.627 million, set in July, 2019.
As known by RealityChek regulars, though, absolute numbers don’t provide the entire, or even the most important parts of, a picture. In this case, that’s because the numbers of employed Americans have grown substantially since the JOLTS series began at the end of 2000. What matters more is the quits rate – the percentage of the employed leaving their positions.
For non-farm workers (the Labor Department’s U.S. employment universe), this rate, at three percent in November, is still well above the pre-pandemic high of 2.4 percent – which also came in 2019 (in February, July, and August), as well as in April, 2001. But it’s barely risen on net since April’s 2.8 percent.
For private sector workers, the recent quits rates movement is less dramatic, and that’s more important for judging the transitory-ness of the Great Resignation – because the private sector is much bigger than the public, and the trends shaping it are much more reflective of market forces, not politicians’ decisions.
But it still seems worth noting that even though it rose to a record 3.4 percent in November (significantly higher than the pre-pandemic record 2.8 percent, set back in January, 2001, the private sector quits rate has been pretty stable since coming in at 3.3 percent in August.
Two caveats need to be mentioned, though. First, these November results are preliminary. Second, they predate the arrival in the United States of the CCP Virus’ highly infectious Omicron variant, which threatens to roil labor markets once again for the foreseeable future. One thing’s for sure – it’s time for me to renew monitoring these JOLTS reports!