3.7 million more people would have quit their jobs by now if not for the pandemic

A sign reads "We all quit" at a Burger King in Nebraska
  • If the pandemic never hit, 3.7 million more people would have quit their jobs by now.
  • That number comes from 2019 quitting trends, which were dashed by the pandemic.
  • Quits have reached record highs in recent months, and show no sign of cooling.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A whole lot of people have been quitting their jobs in the past months, but it's still lower than the number who would've quit in a pandemic-free world.

That's because there's still 3.7 million "missing quits," according to Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor.

"Basically, I just looked at what quits were trending like in 2019 and looked at the shortfall during the pandemic, because, of course, quits had dropped pretty significantly during the pandemic," Zhao told Insider.

In essence, he looked at that shortfall to see how much voluntary turnover didn't happen during the pandemic. That drastic dip in quits is likely attributable to the pandemic casting uncertainty over people's future career and financial prospects.

"The fact that we saw such a significant drop in quits indicates that there really was this period of time during the pandemic when many workers had to put their careers on pause while the pandemic went on," Zhao said.

That's not the case anymore: Quits have roared back, reaching record highs over the past three months. In June, 3.9 million people quit their jobs - a number within spitting distance of the record-breaking 4 million workers who quit in April. But even those haven't completely closed the gap in quits. In June, Zhao found that "missing quits" were at around 5.1 million; now, they're still at 3.7 million.

Some of today's record-breaking quits may be due to "pent-up quits," where workers waited until the labor market heated up and recovered to move on to "greener pastures," as Zhao said. But that doesn't mean that the quits rate is artificially high, according to Zhao - instead, it's consistent with just how tight this once in a lifetime labor market is. It's one where wages are up, workers can quit with ease, and job openings outnumber people looking for work.

And don't expect those quits to drop anytime soon. The record highs have continued going in to the summer, and Zhao doesn't see them cooling off just yet.

"What's fundamentally driving these elevated quits is how tight the labor market is right now," he said. "And there doesn't seem to be any signs that the labor market is going to loosen in the coming months."

The data from June's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey also saw a record low number of workers being fired or laid off (just 1.3 million). It shows how desperate businesses were to hang on to workers - but they're still quitting anyway. Or, in some cases, they're simply poaching away workers from other businesses as employers scramble to hire.

"I think that the way that many people have been talking about labor shortages is the difficulty in hiring workers," Zhao said. "But really what the quits data is showing - and other data as well - is showing that these labor shortages are two-sided for employers. It's difficult to hire, but it's also difficult to retain."

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