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Americans are quitting their jobs — and women are leading "the Great Resignation"

Millions of workers are quitting their jobs
Millions of workers are quitting their jobs 09:42

Americans are quitting their jobs in record numbers — and women are leading "the Great Resignation." 

Almost 3% of workers handed in their resignations in August, a record, the government reported Tuesday. The number of people quitting rose to 4.3 million, dwarfing the number of layoffs from employers, who cut 1.3 million jobs the same month. 

And women are quitting their jobs at a faster pace than men are, according to data from payroll services firm Gusto, which focuses on small businesses. Its analysis found that 5.5% of women quit their jobs in August, compared with 4.4% of men — a gender gap that's the largest Gusto has seen since it began tracking the issue in early 2020. 

Those findings come on the heels of last week's jobs report, which found that almost 300,000 women left the labor force in September. That means all of September's employment gains — when employers added a meager 194,000 jobs — were due to a bump in men finding new jobs. 

But, economists warn, the U.S. economy may not regain its footing until women fully return to the job market, especially given that female workers held the majority of nation's jobs prior to the pandemic

The pandemic has walloped women workers, who have taken the brunt of childcare duties as schools struggle to reopen and daycare spots can be scarce and expensive. Women are also more likely to work in customer-facing jobs like restaurants and retail, industries that were hard-hit by the Delta variant this summer. 

"The small number of jobs being added each month are being added by men, and women are again leaving the workforce," said Luke Pardue, economist at Gusto. "Two out of three caregivers are women, so when demand for that care goes up, they will be ones to leave the workforce." 

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He added that the trend is a red flag for the economy: "We're not going to see a full, equitable recovery until women return to the labor force in equal rates to men."

So far, the trend of women quitting at a higher rate than men doesn't appear to be abating, according to Gusto's data. Resignations remained elevated in September, with women's quit rate still about 1 percentage point higher than men's, Gusto found. 

To be sure, Gusto's data doesn't track large employers, but Pardue said he would expect that women in big businesses are also quitting at higher rates than men since Gusto's data typically tracks with national trends. 

Uptick in "urgent" hiring

Employers are feeling the pain of hiring as the workforce remains smaller than it was prior to the pandemic. Despite vaccinations and economic reopenings, there are still 3.2 million fewer workers in the labor market today than compared with February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the economy.

More Americans had been expected to return to the job market with the end of pandemic unemployment aid over Labor Day, but so far, that theory hasn't panned out to the degree that some politicians and business owners seeking more workers had forecast. That signals the extra $300 weekly payments likely weren't the primary reason for keeping workers on the sidelines, economists say. Instead, health concerns and childcare issues appear to be what's weighing most on workers. 

"Frankly [pandemic jobless benefits] ending haven't suddenly returned everything to normal in the labor market," said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab. "We are still seeing employers having challenges hiring, and we are not seeing the uptake from job seekers."

That's leading to an uptick in employers posting "urgent" hiring notices, according to Indeed data. And three of the four industries where employers are looking to hire immediately are those dominated by women: personal care and home health, nursing and child care, Konkel said. The fourth industry with a high share of "urgent" hiring postings is driving and transportation.

"A lot of them are for in-person work," Konkel noted. "You can't do nursing or in-home personal health care remotely."

Women and burnout

Women are experiencing higher rates of burnout than men — and it's getting worse, the business consultancy McKinsey and Lean In found in their "Women in the Workplace" report issued last month. About one in three women said they have considered either leaving the workforce or downshifting their career in 2021, compared with one in four at the start of the pandemic.

More professional women are taking medical leaves to cope with stress, exhaustion and burnout, said Asha Tarry, therapist and founder of Behavioral Health Consulting Services, who also works with professionals and business owners. The problem is especially acute for women of color, she noted.

People are working 10 to 12 hours a day, taking their work home — or never separating work and home life if they are working remotely, she added. In some cases, workers are being asked to take on more responsibilities given the shrinking workforce — "working more hours for the same pay," she said.

Women "are conditioned to people-please to our own detriment," she added. 

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On top of these work stresses, women with children are coping with a lack of childcare as well as school reopenings that have been marred by COVID-19 outbreaks and quarantines. Children under 12 can't yet receive the COVID-19 vaccine, adding stress to the return-to-school plans for many families. 

Women like Laura Pacific, a 35-year-old single mom who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, told CBS MoneyWatch that the going rate for childcare in her area can reach up to $800 a month, or more than her monthly rent. "They say there are a lot of jobs right now, but because of the child care situation I am not able to take advantage of any of them," she said.

Policy experts say such tradeoffs add to the urgency of President Joe Biden's plan to expand social services for families, such as his plan to provide universal preschool for all of the nation's three- and four-year olds. Such programs would free up many parents to enter the labor market, while also easing household budgets for young families. 

"A red-hot labor market"

For those who are looking for a job switch or want to reenter the workforce, it's a good time to be an employee, economists say. 

The rising share of resignations "point to a red-hot labor market — job openings are still near a record high, and quits are at a record high as well," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at jobs website Glassdoor. "The quits are a positive signal that workers are confident there are job opportunities out there."

The government data on employees who quit their jobs doesn't indicate whether people are finding new jobs or simply stepping back from the job market. But about 4 of 10 people who quit were either working in leisure and hospitality industries, such as restaurants, or in retail locations. Workers in those traditionally lower-wage industries may be getting better-paying jobs elsewhere, or switching to jobs that don't involve dealing with customers. 

"Anecdotally, we've seen more employers offer a wide variety of bonuses and perks," Zhao said. "They are offering novel benefits like student loan assistance or tuition reimbursement, which are 21st-century benefits that employers are experimenting with."

If employers don't have the financial flexibility to offer higher wages to lure job applicants in the door, they can consider other sweeteners, he added. "There are other perks and benefits that might be more appealing than a traditional raise," he said. "The most obvious example is if you can emphasize flexibility. A working parent might prefer that."

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