Record 4.5 million Americans quit jobs in November

Demand for workers in the U.S. remained historically elevated in November, with job openings holding near an all-time high and the number of individuals quitting their jobs reaching a record amid the ongoing pandemic.

Vacancies totaled 10.562 million in November, according to the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) released Tuesday. This comes is slightly lower than the 11.091 million in October, based on the government's revised print for the month. Consensus economists were looking for job openings to rise to 11.079 million in November, according to Bloomberg data.

The quits rate came in at 3.0%, matching the record-high level last seen in September and suggesting an elevated number of individuals were voluntarily leaving their jobs. This was up from the 2.8% quits rate from October. A record 4.5 million individuals quit their jobs in November.

About 1.37 million people were laid off or fired during the month, compared to 2.12 million people in the same month in 2020.

By industry, job openings declined most notably in accommodation and food services, with vacancies falling by 261,000 but remaining at a still-elevated 1.3 million in total. Construction and non-durable goods manufacturing employers also saw notable drops in job openings at 110,000 and 66,000, respectively.

Tuesday's report extends a streak of elevated readings on job openings. Vacancies rose throughout early 2021 and reached a record high of 11.098 million in July, and have retreated only modestly since then.

And while the JOLTS report for November does not yet capture any meaningful impact from the Omicron variant discovered around Thanksgiving, some economists suggested labor shortages may be exacerbated at least in the near-term due to the latest surge.

"Companies have shifted their demand for workers at a pace that is normally only seen during economic booms," Chris Rupkey, chief economist for FWDBONDS, wrote in an email Tuesday. "The economy is booming today but for how long is the question with the spread of the latest COVID variant that is closing many schools and slowing commerce and buyer traffic at many shops and malls."

The JOLTS data also adds to a slew of other reports pointing to the persistent tightness in the U.S. labor market. The last monthly jobs report from the Labor Department showed a disappointing 210,000 non-farm payrolls came back in the penultimate month of last year. The labor force participation rate remained depressed compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the civilian labor force was still down by about 2.4 million participants versus levels from February 2020. And according to the latest NFIB Small Business Optimism report, nearly half of surveyed owners said they had job openings that could not be filled in November. The December jobs report is slated to be released on Friday.

A sign seeking workers is displayed at a fast food restaurant in Portland, Ore., Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)
A sign seeking workers is displayed at a fast food restaurant in Portland, Ore., Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

But while labor shortages have continued to strain employers seeking to fill positions, leverage among workers has increased. Average hourly earnings last rose at a 4.8% year-over-year clip in November, though this rise was dwarfed by the 6.8% jump in U.S. consumer prices during the same month, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And the Conference Board's consumer confidence survey last month showed a labor differential — or percentage of those saying jobs were "plentiful" less those saying jobs were "hard to get" — that was still elevated on a historical basis, suggesting workers were still finding it relatively easy to find jobs.

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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