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June 2020 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey

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Rise in quitting may be a sign of workers' concerns about the pandemic.

While today’s numbers from the government Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) show another month of bounceback in job growth, there might be another story if you read between the lines. Job openings increased again and hires were once again close to historic levels, but the large increase in the quits rate was striking. An increase in quitting is usually a sign of worker confidence in the health of the labor market. Right now, it’s hard to see workers feeling quite so confident with unemployment in the double digits. Rather, the rise in quitting might be a sign of workers’ concerns about the pandemic.

The rise in quitting was most pronounced in three sectors: health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, and retail trade. Employees in these industries groups have more personal contact than workers in other industries, putting them more at risk of contracting the coronavirus. Job openings increased considerably in all these sectors, but are still below February levels. Perhaps the rise in jobs openings is less about adding additional workers, but backfilling positions from workers who quit positions due to concerns about the virus, lack of childcare options, or similar reasons.

While these workers are leaving jobs more frequently, demand for workers in higher-wage industries continues to be depressed. Job openings in financial activities and professional and business services are both down roughly 25% from February levels. We’ve seen similar trends in Indeed’s job postings as trends for higher-wage jobs continue to lag postings elsewhere. These trends suggest many employers are concerned about the longer-term health of the labor market as they are less willing to add additional higher-wage employees. We may be seeing a bounceback in the short term, but further out, the outlook isn’t so rosy.