Last month I promised to resume following the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly statistics on job turnover for two reasons. First, these numbers, which are crucial to gauging the extent of the CCP Virus-era “Great Resignation” that’s roiled the nation’s employment picture, started showing signs of returning to pre-pandemic norms. Second, these indications that the peak had been hit of Americans voluntarily leaving their jobs pre-dated the arrival of the virus’ super-infectious (but relatively mild) Omicron variant. That development raised the prospect of infection fear and worsening labor shortages keeping the Resignation going strong and even regaining steam.
Yesterday morning, the latest (December) results came out, and this new JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) suggests that the gradual normalization continued even as Omicron’s impact began metastasizing.
As reported last month, the November JOLTS release showed a record, in absolute terms, in the number of Americans in the non-farm labor force (the U.S. government’s definition of the national employment universe) who quit their jobs.
Yesterday’s figures show that November remains the absolute quits king, but that this figure has been revised down from 4.527 million to 4.449. And quitters’ ranks shrank further in December – to a preliminary 4.339 million.
The quits data for the private sector no doubt says more about the Great Resignation and its fate, since its employment trends reflect mainly market forces and not politicians’ decisions And the private sector quits level is declining, too. November’s originally reported 4.311 million number is now judged to be 4.283 million, and the preliminary December figure is 4.129 million.
Both the non-farm and private sector quits levels are still considerably higher than their pre-pandemic peaks (July, 2019’s 3.627 million for the former and the same month’s 3.448 million for the private sector). But as known by RealityChek regulars, these absolute numbers don’t tell the whole story, or even the most important parts of the story. In this case, that’s because the number of U.S. workers keeps growing.
Therefore, it’s vital to look at the quits rate – the percentage of workers voluntarily taking their jobs and shoving them. And by this measure, gradual normalization can be seen, too.
For non-farm workers, November’s three percent result was unrevised, and the figure fell to a preliminary 2.9 percent in December. They’re both above the pre-pandemic high of 2.4 percent (which came in February, July, and August of 2019). But the non-farm quits rate has been flat on net since August.
For private sector workers, November’s 3.4 percent figure stayed unrevised, and the quits rate fell to a preliminary 3.2 percent in December. And although these shares, too, are significantly higher than the pre-pandemic peak (2.8 percent, set in January, 2001), the quits rate has actually inched down since reaching 3.3 percent in August.
It’s still too early to say that the Great Resignation has even topped out. After all, the Omicron wave may be cresting now, but the next JOLTS report – due out March 9 and covering January – might still cover a period when it’s widespread. Plus, no one knows for sure whether there’s a new variant in store, and how severe it will be. Moreover, that next JOLTS report will contain revisions going back to January, 2017. So clearly it won’t provide much rest for weary observers trying to figure out how quickly the economy is moving past its CCP Virus-era gyrations – if at all.