There’s yet another reason so many people quit: because they could. The staffing shortage has left many companies at the mercy of those who work – or don’t – for them. With the labour market leaning so far in favour of the worker, it’s been easier for workers to leave one job and get another, further lessening the incentive for people to return to jobs they find undesirable. The people who used to have those jobs have replaced them with gig work, or moved to new industries, says da Motta Veiga. “They’re trying to transfer their skills into industries where actually they can be respected, well-paid and have more opportunity,” he says.
Why aren’t people coming back to fill these jobs?
The epidemic of quitting throughout 2021 and into this year, known as the Great Resignation, left job openings across industries. But David Dwertmann, associate professor of management at Rutgers University School of Business, Camden, US, says it’s been difficult to re-hire workers to fill low-wage jobs in particular, for the same reasons people left them in the first place.
He points to a Pew Research Survey that asked people who quit their jobs about their reason for leaving. Low pay was first, followed by “no opportunities for advancement” and “feeling disrespected”.
“If you’re flipping burgers or something, it’s not that easy to advance. Not everyone is going to be a manager. Many people are stuck in these jobs for years and years and years,” says Dwertmann. Plus, “the workers just don’t feel like they’re being valued enough, and don’t feel like they’re being treated well enough”. With a market awash in better opportunities, people feeling stagnant or mistreated in their jobs seized a golden opportunity to bail.
Another factor, adds Dwertmann, is the wave of Baby Boomer retirements that left still more gaps in the workforce. “It’s kind of the perfect storm,” he says. “I think Covid-19 probably for [Boomers considering retirement] was a great reason to say, ‘You know what? I’m done.’ Because these are the groups that were at the highest risk of Covid exposure, especially working in some face-to-face service jobs. I think if they could afford to do so, a large cohort of that particular population just chose to retire. I would assume that many of them will probably never come back into the labour force.”
This Boomer exodus, notes Dwertmann, has been compounded by a lack of immigration during the past several years that has left gaps in industries which normally employ new arrivals. “In part due to the pandemic, in part due to changes in policy, immigration into the United States actually dropped by half,” he says. “And these are some of the people that used to fulfil or take some of those low-skill, low-education jobs.”