We Are Quitting Our Jobs in Droves…But Why?

By Joe Darby

Have you quit your job lately, my friend? If so, you have a whole lot of company. I recently saw a daily newspaper report that said labor statistics show that almost a half million Louisianians have walked off their jobs this year. An incredible 77,000 voluntarily left work in July alone, the last month for which complete data are available. If that July rate were kept up for a whole year, an astounding 924,000 people would have quit work in a 12-month period.

What is going on here, I asked myself. And to get some answers I reached out to a couple of experts who offered some interesting insights to the question. They are Dr. Mary Edith Stacy, dean of the College of Business and Technology at Northwestern State University, and Dorothy Jones, assistant professor of economics there, whose area of expertise includes unemployment.

Both quickly pointed out that the principal element in the mass job quittings was the Covid epidemic. “That changed everything,” Stacy said. March 12, 2020, was the day the world changed, she said. Schools were closing. Airlines were shutting down. Life as we had known it was different. Radically different.

“I don’t know if our pre-2020 life will ever come back as it was. It’s affected everything from religion to sex to politics,” the dean said. The radical changes had social, psychological and political as well as economic elements, she said. Many people, if they didn’t lose their jobs outright, had their hours cut drastically. Many began to work from home.

And most coped, “because they found out they could get by on less,” Jones said. People also enjoyed the flexibility of working at home but — and this is important, Jones said — many realized they were in dead-end jobs that they didn’t really enjoy. “Life is too short to spend doing something that is not fulfilling, so they decided to leave their jobs and take a new outlook on life.

“Some, many of them women, just decided to stay at home and take care of their children,” which incidentally saved money on child care,” Jones said. Others were looking to further their education or maybe even move out of state. So people are taking time to look for jobs that are more fulfilling and that offer better benefits, she said.

In the meantime, they have dropped out of the labor market. With so many leaving their jobs, conventional wisdom would indicate unemployment numbers would rise. But the rate is only 3.5 percent, normally a quite good number. However, one must remember, Jones said, that the unemployed are considered to be those without jobs but “who are actively seeking employment,” she said. And many of the dropouts are not doing that.

Like Jones, Stacy cited the benefits of economic flexibility that the Covid epidemic mandated for American society. The disease had many and varied effects on our social fabric. “There’s no one answer to the question of why people are quitting their jobs,” she said. But people found they enjoyed the new flexibility in their lives and the ability to have more control over them, she added.

And she also said some people found they perhaps didn’t need as much money to live as they previously thought. “People realized that they could put off buying those new shorts or that new pair of shoes. They saw that they could do without.”

The bottom line is, we are living in new times. I myself have seen signs of the new economic circumstances. Not too long ago I went to one of our popular restaurants here and service was very limited that night because so few of the young staff members had shown up for work. And it’s not just the entry-level jobs that are going. I’ve seen a number of ads locally, seeking trained nurses for various medical groups here.

Jones pointed out that even well-paying jobs like nursing have drawbacks because of the stress factors and that people are stepping back from some of those types of jobs also. I can vouch for that. My oldest daughter, Becky, is an award-winning RN who has been working for years in the New Orleans area, but her job, in oncology, is very stressful. So she is moving to the Houston area, where she will have a better situation plus a substantial pay raise.

Thus, it turns out that my own “little girl” is part of this vast new movement of people and jobs. All I can say is that I’m glad I’m retired and don’t have to worry about facing hard choices in the new economic realities of life in 2022 that we are all trying to deal with.