Job churn includes more workers quitting by choice than being laid off

More than 27 million people left their jobs between January and May of this year, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly tally of job separations.

The vast majority of them — a total of nearly 17.9 million — left voluntarily, that data show.

In April the number of people who voluntarily left their jobs broke all records since the federal government began tracking what is called the “quits” rate in 2000. Nearly 4 million people, or 2.8% of all employees, quit in April, and another 3.6 million quit in May.

Experts say a high quits rate is considered a sign that workers are confident in their job market prospects this year as COVID-19 vaccines became widely available and the economy recovers.

“What we are seeing is that people are aware that the job market is good and they’re going out to see how much their skills are going to bring them,” said Garth McLean, Montgomery County’s interim director of workforce development.

Credit: Alexis Larsen

Credit: Alexis Larsen

“They’re trying to figure out if they can make more money and because everyone is hiring its causing them to look at what opportunities are available,” McLean said. “They have the confidence that that next job is waiting for them.”

Employees who were laid off or otherwise involuntarily discharged totaled nearly 7.8 million so far this year.

Retirees are covered in the “other separations” category, which also includes transfers to other locations, deaths or separations due to employee disability. Nearly 1.7 million employees are included in that category.

Employees leaving jobs-U.S.       
MonthTotal quitsQuits rateLayoff & other involuntary dischargesLayoff & involuntary discharges rateOther separationsOther separations rate 
May 2021 3,604,000 2.5 1,368,000 0.9 346,000 0.2 5,318,000
April 2021 3,992,000 2.8 1,450,000 1 360,000 0.2 5,802,000
March 2021 3,568,000 2.5 1,525,000 1.1 343,000 0.2 5,436,000
February 2021 3,383,000 2.4 1,723,000 1.2 323,000 0.2 5,429,000
January 2021 3,306,000 2.3 1,724,000 1.2 294,000 0.2 5,324,000
TOTAL Jan - May 2021 17,853,000   7,790,000   1,666,000   27,309,000
Note: Data is seasonally adjusted. May data is preliminary. The quits rate is the percentage of employed people who voluntarily left jobs. Retirees are included in the "other separations" category.       
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics      

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