The Great Resignation Is Far From Over, as Unemployed Americans Who Quit Their Jobs Reaches 30 Year High

The share of unemployed Americans who quit or voluntarily left their jobs rose to 15.9 percent in September, suggesting people who leave a job still feel confident they can find a new one.

A "We Are Hiring" sign is posted in front of a restaurant in Los Angeles.
The share of unemployed Americans who left their jobs voluntarily ticked up in September. Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

The share of unemployed Americans who quit or voluntarily left their jobs and immediately began looking for new employment rose to 15.9 percent in September, according to the jobs report published today (Oct. 7) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the highest level of so-called “job leavers” as a percentage of the unemployed reported since 1990, and indicates the so-called Great Resignation is far from over.

Even as companies have laid off workers or announced hiring freezes in recent months, this trend shows Americans still feel they can find another job if they leave their current one. Recent survey data backs this up, noted Julia Pollack, chief economist at ZipRecruiter—one in four job seekers told the job site last month they feel so confident in the availability of jobs that they would quit their job without having another lined up.

“It’s really an indicator of how hot and how strong this labor market is,” said Nick Bunker, the economic research director for North America at job site Indeed.

The most recent jobs report shows the overall U.S. unemployment rate remains low, at 3.5 percent, the same level as prior to the pandemic. Even as the share of unemployed Americans who left their jobs has picked up, other forms of unemployment have declined, Bunker noted. The number of permanent job losers—that is, Americans whose employment ended involuntarily, or who completed a temporary job, with no expectations to return—declined from 2.2 million last year to 1.2 million this September, while the share of unemployed Americans who were temporarily laid off dropped by one percentage point year-over-year.

Most people quit jobs don’t stay unemployed

The rate of Americans quitting their jobs has slowed from a record high in November, but remains elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels. Data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Oct. 4 showed 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs in August, about the same level as July. But few Americans who quit their jobs stay unemployed, Bunker noted. Though more than 4.2 million quit their jobs in August, just 898,000 job leavers were reported as unemployed that month. The median period for which Americans stay unemployed is currently 8.3 weeks, its lowest level in 20 years.

While the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data suggests the economy remains favorable to job seekers, Bunker warned conditions could change for Americans who quit their jobs in the coming months. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates again before the year is over, and more employers have started to announce slowdowns or layoffs in recent months. U.S. employers announced nearly 30,000 job cuts in September, according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, up nearly 68 percent from the same period last year. The retail and technology sectors saw the steepest job cut announcements. The Great Resignation Is Far From Over, as Unemployed Americans Who Quit Their Jobs Reaches 30 Year High