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Earlier this summer, the New York Times declared the Great Resignation over. The tidal wave of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs had crested and crashed, apparently. Quitting rates had fallen back to prepandemic levels, the Times reported.
We’re not saying the New York Times is wrong…
The data reflects this decline, too. We plotted quits per month using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLT) Survey. We can see the spike in quitting in April 2021, a 97.6% increase year over year. Since September 2021, quits have started to go down year over year.
(We should note, though, that percent change in quitting was near an unusual all-time low in April 2020 during the global shutdown; this low point was rivaled only by the percent change in quitting from April 2008 to April 2009, when the Great Recession hit.)
But then we took another look at the data. Although quit rates are down compared to last year, they still seem high based on historical standards. Look again at our graph above. At a glance, we can see the quitting values look higher on the far-right side of the graph than the left. This made me wonder: What if we changed the baseline? How do the numbers look compared to two years ago, three years ago, or even four years ago?
…but we think there’s more to this story.
Look at June 2023 in the table below. Quits in June 2023 were down 10% compared to the year before in the United States (non-farm only). Though this number is 6% less than June 2022, it’s still 43% higher than three years ago, and 7% higher than four years ago, before the pandemic.
In human terms, 43% more non-farm workers quit their jobs in June 2023 than did in June 2020. Even when we factor out COVID, 7% more people quit in June 2023 compared to June 2019. Try it yourself; you can change the industry and geographic region to see how this new baseline changes your perspective.
Let’s consider resignation by geography.
Continuing, with four years ago as the default comparison, how else can we examine and contextualize quit rates in June 2023? One interesting lens is geographic region. Both the South (+21.7%) and the Midwest (+9.4%) saw quitting increases in June 2023 compared to four years prior. On the other hand, the Northeast (-11.4%) and the West (-8.9%) saw decreases. So, it’s possible that the Great Resignation may be over in some parts of the country but not others.
If you think this is splitting hairs, we’re not. These numbers matter for students looking for jobs, for employers planning the next fiscal year, for state and federal lawmakers designing labor policies. Most of all, these numbers matter for workers making choices about their livelihoods.
How do resignation rates change by industry?
Lastly, let’s look at industries using the same four-year baseline. In transportation and non-durable manufacturing, quitting is up over 50% compared to June 2019. Other industries, such as construction (-15.2%), finance and insurance (-12.0%), and real estate (-11.6%), have fewer quits than four years ago.
Look at a few service industries, just for fun. Healthcare (42.4%), education (42.9%), and transportation (51.9%) all have comparable percent changes in quitting, but the scale is enormously different. The BLS recorded over 1 million quits in both healthcare and education. Transportation logged about 378,000. This is a good reminder that percentages can be tricky sometimes. Smaller numbers can swing on a percentage basis even if the total impact is not huge.
So, is the Great Resignation over?
Well, maybe. Our analysis suggests that the answer depends on where you live and what industry you’re in. And what baseline comparison you are using. We can say one thing for sure: You cannot always trust a metric until you really unpack what it is saying and understand the broader context.