People@Work: Americans Are Quitting Jobs Again. Is That Good News?


After a deep recession that saw the loss of some 8 million jobs, the U.S. unemployment rate lingers near its highest levels in decades. But that isn't stopping some people from telling their bosses they've had enough and are calling it quits. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in the past three months, more people have quit their jobs than have been laid off.

Quitting a job in this economy would seem to fly in the face of common sense. But some analysts say the resurgence of growth has some workers feeling more confident about the future. "I think that people are less frightened. I think that people now feel as if the jobs they wanted are starting to open up," Clark University labor economist Gary Chaison, told the Marketplace radio program.

Still, with 9.7% of Americans unemployed, according to the Labor Department's latest report, the U.S. employment picture has a long way to go before it once again appears anywhere near normal. Things are just starting to move in the right direction, says John Bishop, associate professor of Human Resource Studies at Cornell University's ILR School.

Still Far From the Comfort Zone

In a typical month during the past year, 4 million people were hired on average, while another 4 million either quit or were laid off, Bishop explains. Over a 12-month period, that works out to be about 50 million people. "The turnover in the American labor market is really large," he says. Contributing to the churn rate are such things as short-term employment or workers who start jobs that they soon find they don't like or that otherwise last only briefly.

While more Americans quitting jobs may seem a positive sign, the U.S. labor market is months if not years away from getting back to where it should be. "We're moving away from an even more-abnormal situation," Bishop says. "But we're still not back to a place we can be comfortable with."

The Labor Department jobless number accounts for only those who are actively seeking work. After factoring in unemployed workers who have given up on their job searches and adding those working part time until something more substantial comes along, about 16.5% of the population is either unemployed or underemployed.

"Just Sick and Tired" of Working Longer Hours?

Still, there is some good news. The economy has seen substantial growth in GDP, which has been climbing much more rapidly than employment or the number of hours logged by workers.

Rather than hire new workers, employers have been content to simply give the existing work force more hours. "Consequently, people are just working longer or harder in order to get the work done," Bishop says. "That's how we accomplished big increases in GDP."

And that's got another expert wondering if those workers quitting their jobs aren't just plain overworked. "Could it be that people/workers are just sick and tired of producing more and more only to see executive pay increase?" asks Michael Brandl, professor of economics and finance at the University of Texas at Austin.

He may have a point. After years of recession and financial distress, it's no wonder many Americans are fed up. They've watched as home foreclosure rates and the numbers of jobless have skyrocketed. All the while, many on Wall Street and in corporate executive suites have been largely unaffected.

Maybe in quitting those jobs, some Americans are taking a stand, echoing the words of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who once said, "I'm sick of being tired."

Originally published