Americans quitting their jobs en masse, says Bureau of Labor Statistics

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The number of Americans who quit their jobs in August climbed to the highest level of the year and the second-highest level since before the Great Recession, according to a new government report that suggests Americans are feeling pretty good about their employment prospects.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary showed more than 2.98 million workers voluntarily left their positions in August. Quits are typically viewed favorably by economists as a sign that employees feel pretty good about their own financial situations and with their ability to find another job.

"Optimism continues to build over the near-term hiring outlook," Sam Bullard, a senior economist and managing director at Wells Fargo Securities, wrote in a research note last month, noting that "labor market conditions have been supportive to the recent increase we have seen in confidence and consumer spending growth."

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Quits have been consistently high all year as the labor market continues its record-setting run of job creation. American employers generated 156,000 new jobs last month, according to a separate report the bureau released Friday, and have ginned up more than 1.6 million additions so far this year.

And with more newly created positions and a consistently high number of job openings, domestic employees have plenty of options if they opt to leave their current positions in search of new ones. Job openings fell back slightly in August after coming just shy of an all-time high in July, but employers were still actively recruiting for more than 5.4 million vacancies.

Meanwhile, more than 5.2 million workers were hired in August – which makes it the third-best month for new hires so far this year. Professional and business services brought on more than 1 million new workers, while health care and social assistance outfits accounted for 542,000 additions.

It's worth noting, though, that hiring in the U.S. is largely skewed toward low-skill, low-paying positions. The retail trade sector accounted for 736,000 of August's hires, while accommodation and food services positions made up 836,000 of the gains.

Interestingly, though, there were 958,000 openings in the health care and social assistance field and nearly twice as many vacancies in financial activities than there were hires. This suggests higher-skill positions are still very much in high demand and that employers may be having a difficult time finding qualified applicants to fill those gaps.

Still, employers across the board appear much more eager to bring new workers on than to lay them off. Private-sector discharges in August fell to just over 1.5 million – their lowest level in nearly three years. Professional and business services led the economy with 368,000 layoffs, but most other separations were fairly subdued.

But those layoffs may not stay that low for long. A separate layoff report published last week by Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement and research outfit showed announced discharges climbed 38 percent in September following an uneventful August. Such announcements were still down 25 percent from last September. And to date, 2016 layoff announcements are still 12 percent shy of where they clocked in over the same window in 2015.

But election uncertainty and year-end corporate reshuffling could send those separations soaring before the dawn of the new year.

"This year could be particularly volatile in the fourth quarter, with employers holding off on significant moves until they see election results," John Challenger, the company's CEO, said in a statement accompanying the report. "It's not simply who wins the White House, but there are Senate races and countless ballot initiatives on issues like minimum wages that will influence business strategies going forward."

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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