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The US Department of Labor said on Friday that 4.4 million workers quit their jobs during September, up from 4.3 million people who quit in August and the highest resignation rate during the 20 years that the government has been tracking these numbers.

If just the two months of resignations were added up, they still wouldn't fill all the available jobs that existed at the end of September - 10.4 million.

The New York Times offers some context:

"Economists cite a number of reasons for the slow return. The pandemic is still disrupting child care, making it hard for some parents to work; other workers are worried about contracting the virus or spreading it to high-risk family members. Many Americans have also built up their savings during the pandemic, allowing them to be choosier about jobs.

"Those factors are likely to ease as the pandemic ebbs and savings dwindle. But other shifts could prove more lasting. In a research note published Friday, economists at Goldman Sachs observed that roughly two-thirds of the people who had left the labor force during the pandemic were over 55; many of them have retired and are unlikely to go back to work.

"The labor crunch is giving workers the upper hand in negotiations. Wages have risen sharply in recent months, particularly in service jobs, although in other industries pay is lagging behind the pace of inflation.

"The recent rise in the number of workers quitting suggests that many are taking advantage of their leverage to accept better-paying jobs, or to look for them. At the same time, understaffing in many businesses may be putting stress on remaining workers, leading even more people to leave their jobs. Industries that require most employees to work in person, such as manufacturing, retail and health care — as well as leisure and hospitality — report the biggest increases in the rate of workers leaving their jobs."

The Washington Post weighs in:

"The South, the West and Midwest have the highest numbers of workers quitting their jobs, at 3.3, 3.1 and 3.0 percent, respectively, while only 2.2 percent of workers in the Northeast are quitting jobs. This is consistent with trends seen in August, which showed that workers in more rural areas quit at a higher rate in part because they had more leverage to demand better pay.

"The country has regained the vast majority of jobs lost in the earliest months of the pandemic, but still has over 4 million fewer jobs than in February 2020.

"Economists have been looking to the return to full employment as an important milestone, but labor shortages, continued coronavirus cases, and supply-chain issues have emerged to complicate that recovery. The high level of turnover among employees is adding to the mismatch, as lower-wage jobs are increasingly hard to fill because workers in those professions are finding alternatives."

And from the Wall Street Journal:

"The nation’s high turnover trend has maintained momentum over the past several months as factors like plentiful job openings, a continuing child-care crisis and increased household savings have made job-hopping—or simply quitting—more attractive to some workers.

"In a labor market where job openings outnumber applicants, companies have been brainstorming how to get more candidates in the door. The hiring overhaul signals a potentially broad rethink of job qualifications. The change could help millions of people get jobs previously out of reach, according to economists and workforce experts.

"U.S. workers left 20 million jobs between May and September this year, according to the latest federal data, a number more than 50% higher than the resignations handed in during the same period last year. That figure was also 15% above the level from spring and summer 2019, when the job market was the hottest it had been in almost 50 years."

KC's View:

I have to admit that I have trouble wrapping my head around this.

A bit of personal truth here - I've been laid off from five different jobs in my life.   Four of the five times, the company was going out of business or shifting to a contractor-only business model because of lousy management.  (I'm apparently not a good luck charm.)  And even when I got laid off from jobs I didn't really like, or companies that I didn't really like, or by employers that I didn't really like, I was bereft when I didn't have a job.  Which actually is why, the last time it happened, I said screw it (using a different verb), and started MNB.

So I have problems grasping the great resignation.

That doesn't make me right, though.  It just means I have to work harder to understand the motivations behind people who leave their jobs without solid prospects.  As, I think, we all do.

People want to feel greater investment in their careers, no matter where those careers happen to be on the food chain.  I happen to believe that money is important, but so are other things - not least the desire to feel like one is contributing, having a sense of common cause.

I do worry, however, about what happens when the current pendulum swings the other way … how will management react to greater leverage, and what will labor to in response?

Maybe a time for common cause?  What are the odds it happens?