The share of workers quitting their jobs hit the highest level in August since at least 2000 following elevated levels in the spring.
Nearly 4.3 million workers voluntarily left their jobs in August, according to the Labor Department’s latest JOLTS report, equating to a quits rate of 2.9%. This gauge of workers' confidence is well above the pandemic-era low of 1.6% in April 2020 and topped the previous high of 2.8% set in April of this year.
"There is likely some element of this that's due to Delta," Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao told Yahoo Money. "By and large, the fact that quits are so high above pre-pandemic levels, and in fact at record highs, signals that workers have more power today."
Accommodation and food services recorded the highest quit rate in August of 6.8% and accounted for approximately two-thirds of the increase for that month. The quits rate in retail trade also increased to 4.7%, up from 4.4% in July. Quits levels in both industries are well above their pre-pandemic levels.
"In part, it's due to the tight labor market," Zhao said. "Then tied to that is the ongoing pandemic... frontline service roles are the ones where the risk of COVID is particularly salient to workers."
'We are seeing this Delta slowdown'
While more workers quit in August, hiring slowed and the number of job openings shrunk amid a surge in delta cases.
Job openings decreased by 659,000 as of the end of August — marking the first drop since the start of the year — to 10.4 million. New hires also declined by 439,000 to 6.3 million.
"Even though we are seeing this Delta slowdown, it's clear that employers still want to hire," Zhao said. "Job openings are still near record highs and labor demand is still red hot."
The number of unemployed workers per job opening remained flat at 0.8 in August. The number and rate of layoffs and discharges were little changed at the series lows of 1.3 million and 0.9%. Both of those measures emphasize the slowdown is temporary, according to Zhao.
"In September, we might still see some weakness, just because the delta wave is still on the downswing," he said. "With the job market expected to re-accelerate in the fall... we will also see job openings rebound as well."