News and Analysis

20 Million Americans Left Their Jobs Between April And August
A man wearing a face mask walks past a sign "Now Hiring" in front of a store amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 14, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. - Another 3 million people filed initial unemployment claims last week on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the Department of Labor. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

The American economy saw 20 million job resignations in the spring and summer.

According to a Department of Labor report released on Tuesday, a record 4.3 million workers quit their jobs in August — the highest level of resignations in over 20 years. However, a summary of federal data from The Wall Street Journal reveals that August’s data continues an upward trend in employee exits:

U.S. workers left their jobs nearly 20 million times between April and August this year, according to the latest federal data, a number more than 60% higher than the resignations handed in during the same period last year, and 12% above the spring and summer of 2019 when the job market was the hottest it had been in almost 50 years.

The data doesn’t count retirements but includes people who have quit jobs for any number of reasons, such as taking a job elsewhere, going back to school, leaving to care of a family member or simply taking a break. The data also includes people who may have quit multiple times, for instance leaving a job on a college campus in May and then quitting a summer job in August.

Between April and August, the economy created a net 2 million new jobs; however, overall employment is still 3% lower than its pre-COVID level.

The high quit rate signals a labor market that heavily favors employees rather than employers. As the number of job openings exceeds the number of available workers, businesses have been hiking wages in an attempt to fill their staff.

“There is an enormous labor shortage in the country right now and it is not just because people are quitting or have child care problems, or can’t get to work due to the Delta variant,” noted Fwdbonds chief economist Chris Rupkey. “The economy is strong as a bull, that is why there is a tremendous demand for labor.”

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — signed by President Biden in March — extended programs through which millions of Americans received a weekly $300 check on top of state unemployment handouts. Surveys taken over the summer appear to indicate that millions of Americans willingly turned down jobs to continue collecting the payments.

Nevertheless, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed extending the payments — which expired in September — through February 2022.

“I’ve been very disappointed on both sides of the aisle that we’ve just simply allowed pandemic unemployment assistance to completely lapse when we are clearly not fully recovered from the cost effects of the pandemic,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a virtual town hall. “I simply could not allow this to happen without at least trying.”

In a recent statement on the economy, President Biden narrowed his focus by celebrating a decline in new unemployment claims.

“Today, we learned that the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment has fallen below 300,000 for the first time since the pandemic began — a drop of more than 60 percent since I took office, and the lowest weekly figure since March 14, 2020. While this is just one week, the fact that the four-week average declined is yet another sign of progress,” he said. “With wages rising and our unemployment rate back below 5 percent for the first time since the pandemic struck, it is clear that our economy is getting back to normal despite the global challenges posed by the Delta variant.”

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