Today’s federal Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report suggests that the latest wave of the pandemic brought on by the omicron variant didn’t fully hit the labor market in December. Demand for workers, as measured by job openings, remained robust and layoffs hit a new all-time low. But while the data suggest no major impact in December, the outlook for January is less optimistic. Indeed data on job postings suggest demand took a hit last month. Hopefully it’s just a temporary setback.

The quits rate ticked down slightly in December, but it ended the year near its all-time high. Overall, 2021 saw a historic surge in workers voluntarily leaving their jobs as the quits rate reached higher and higher peaks.

More and more people left their jobs to find greener pastures as strong demand for workers resulted in a job switching boom. The result was wages growing at a rate the US labor market hasn’t seen in well over a decade. Anyone who wants to understand where wage growth is headed should keep an eye on the quits rate.

Another positive sign was that workers have never been less likely to involuntarily lose their job since the JOLTS data have been recorded. Only 0.8% of employees were laid off during the month of December. These trends are even more stark for certain industries. In December 2020, the layoff rate in retail trade was 1%. A year later it was half that at 0.5%.

Last year ended on a strong note for workers as demand for their services remained elevated, leading to more opportunities for job seekers and more security for those who already had a job. Unfortunately the omicron wave looks as though it disrupted that position, but hopefully the previous state of affairs will return relatively soon.