The United States job market recovery stalled in the second half of Q3, coinciding with the rise of the Delta variant. Now, more than eighteen months into the pandemic, the employment outlook suddenly appears murky. Businesses across the country are struggling to hire. American workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. And as we turn the corner into fall, just one thing is clear: the job market is in the midst of a dramatic transition.
To make sense of it all, we surveyed more than 25,000 job seekers from across the country over the past three months in order to answer several pressing questions about today’s job market. What’s causing current labor shortages, and will they get worse before they get better? Why are workers quitting their jobs in such large numbers? How will school reopenings impact the job prospects of working parents? And how has the Delta variant changed the outlook for job seekers? Read on for a detailed breakdown of these key issues, and more, affecting the U.S. job market in Q3.
Hospitality labor shortage could get even worse. One-third of current hospitality workers report being “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their jobs, which is twice the pre-pandemic level. As a result, 58% of hospitality workers say that they are planning to quit their jobs before the end of 2021.
The “Great Resignation” trend is here to stay. 22% of all job seekers report quitting their previous job, and 73% of currently-employed workers say that they are actively thinking about quitting their jobs
Workers are unhappy. The Great Resignation reflects a deep dissatisfaction with previous employment situations. Some of the top reasons for workers quitting their jobs this year are unhappiness with how their employer treated them during the pandemic (19%), low pay or lack of benefits (17%), and lack of work-life balance (13%). On the positive side, many workers also report quitting in order to pursue a new career path (20%), reflecting how the pandemic created an opportunity for some to switch fields or level up to more appealing roles.
The return to in-person school is a boon for the job prospects of many working parents. 83% of job seekers with school-age children say their kids are returning to school for in-person instruction this year, after 70% had kids in remote learning situations last year. Over one-fifth of these working parents expect that the return to school will make their job search easier. Mothers, especially, reported that the return to in-person school would make their job search easier (25% vs. 17% of fathers).
The Delta variant caused a reduction in job seeker confidence in Q3. Job seeker confidence reached its highest level during the pandemic in June 2021, but then dropped in July with the spread of the Delta variant. In September, only 34% of job seekers said that they expect the job market to improve next month, down from a high of 43% in June. This is the first decrease in our Job Seeker Confidence Index since November 2020, which coincided with the beginning of last year’s COVID-19 winter wave.
Hospitality Labor Shortage
Restaurants, bars, hotels, and other businesses in the hospitality industry continue to struggle finding workers. In an effort to understand the ongoing labor shortage in the industry, we asked both former and current hospitality workers about their job satisfaction, future plans, and whether they would consider working in hospitality again.
Job satisfaction in the hospitality industry has declined substantially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One-third of current hospitality workers report being “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their jobs, compared to 15% prior to the pandemic. At the same time, the share of hospitality workers who report being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” dropped from 64% pre-pandemic to 43% currently.
While hospitality workers who reported being very satisfied prior to the pandemic are more likely to still be employed in the industry, they are frequently less satisfied with their jobs than they used to be. 45% of hospitality workers who have remained in the industry report lower job satisfaction now than before the pandemic, and only 9% report higher job satisfaction.
Such extreme levels of employee dissatisfaction will likely lead to a wave of resignations in the near future. According to our survey, 58% of all current hospitality workers say that they’re planning to quit their jobs before the end of 2021. Unsurprisingly, dissatisfied hospitality workers are twice as likely to say that they are planning on quitting than those who are satisfied with their jobs (80% compared to 39%). This is a strong signal that the labor shortage affecting the hospitality industry might get worse before it gets better, as increased turnover exacerbates an already difficult hiring environment for employers.
According to our survey, about 25% of former hospitality workers report that they would not want to work in the industry again. There are a number of major reasons why, including:
Low pay (55%)
Desire for a new career path (50%)
Lack of benefits (39%)
Difficult customers (38%)
Schedule inflexibility and long hours (34%)
COVID-19 risk (23%)
The physical demands of the work (23%)
After leaving the hospitality industry this year, former hospitality workers report going in a number of different directions for their next role. Interestingly, 16% of former hospitality workers that we surveyed are currently unemployed. For the remaining group that switched to a new type of job, 17% switched to an in-person office job and another 17% found a work-from-home job. Meanwhile, 13% began working in industrial settings like warehouses and factories, 11% transitioned to healthcare work, and 6% became drivers.
In addition, many hospitality workers are considering educational options as an alternative to staying in the industry long-term. Over one-quarter of both former and current hospitality workers say that they’re considering going back to school or enrolling in a training program to help find a new occupation, while 11% are already pursuing it.
The Great Resignation
American workers are quitting their jobs at unprecedented rates in 2021. In April alone, 4 million people quit their jobs and millions more have followed suit since. The trend — dubbed the “Great Resignation” — has been the subject of much discussion as to why, during an overall difficult job market, so many are choosing to leave their jobs.
Over the course of the past three months, we surveyed over 7,000 job seekers from across the country to uncover some answers. From this broad sample — covering Americans from a range of industries and job functions — 22% reported that they had quit their previous jobs. This is clearly a broad phenomenon.
Nevertheless, resignation rates vary significantly by current employment status and age group. While 22% of job seekers overall quit their last jobs, this share is even larger among unemployed job seekers (35% compared to 14% of full-time employed), indicating that many workers quit their jobs without having a new one lined up. Additionally, workers in their twenties are more likely to have quit their last jobs than both teenagers and older workers. In fact, about one-third of workers in their twenties quit their previous jobs, compared to only 20% of workers aged 50 and older. There was no difference in resignation rates along gender lines.
So, why are so many people quitting their jobs this year? Workers report a variety of reasons for quitting, but a few stand out. 20% of people who quit did so because they were seeking a career change, while 19% cited poor treatment by their employer during the pandemic as a reason for moving on. In addition, other common reasons for quitting included low pay or lack of benefits (17%), relocation (14%), changing priorities due to the pandemic (13%), and a desire to achieve a better work-life balance (13%).
The specific reasons for quitting often differ across industries. For instance, teachers and educators are more likely to have quit their last job due to needing a break or better work-life balance (23% compared to 13% overall). More hospitality and retail workers quit on average due to low pay and lack of benefits (23% compared to 17% overall). Healthcare and hospitality workers are more likely to say they quit because their priorities changed due to the pandemic (17% compared to 12% overall), while warehouse and factory workers are much more likely to say that they quit because they were seeking a new career or they were unhappy with employer treatment during the pandemic. Interestingly, less than 3% of workers who quit their jobs say it was because they didn’t want to return to in-person work.
Clearly, the pandemic has had a profound impact on people’s career decisions. Nearly one-quarter of workers (24%) say that they would not have quit their last job if the pandemic hadn’t occurred, and one-third of workers reflect that the pandemic caused them to stay in their last jobs for either a longer or shorter amount of time than they would have otherwise. Women are more likely than men to say that the pandemic caused them to stay at their last job for a longer amount of time than they would have otherwise (19% of women compared to 14% of men).
More Resignations on the Horizon
We surveyed thousands of employed workers in Q3 about their future career plans and thoughts on quitting their job in today’s market. Amazingly, 73% say that they are thinking about quitting right now.
Workers in almost every industry are considering leaving their jobs at high rates. At 77%, the hospitality industry has the highest share of workers thinking about quitting. Retail and healthcare workers are not far behind, with 74% and 73% thinking about quitting, respectively.
Not only are the majority of Joblist job seekers thinking about quitting their jobs, but over one-quarter would feel comfortable quitting their job without a new one lined up. Workers currently employed as drivers are the most likely to say they would be comfortable quitting without already having a new job (37%), while people working in education are the least likely (15%).
Overall, the most common reasons that workers cite for wanting to quit their jobs are low pay or lack of benefits and employer treatment during the pandemic. However, we also see some interesting differences across industries. Retail workers frequently cite low pay or lack of benefits as why they are thinking about quitting (41% compared to 32% of everyone else), and both retail and hospitality workers commonly report that they are considering quitting because their priorities changed during the pandemic (16% and 14%, respectively, compared to 9% overall). Hospitality workers are the most likely group to say they are thinking about quitting their jobs due to unhappiness with employer treatment during the pandemic (34% compared to 24% of everyone else).
Is there anything that employers can do to counteract the quitting trend? Despite the widespread quitting phenomenon, about one-third of Joblist job seekers indicate that they would change their minds about quitting if just some of their job grievances were addressed by their employer. Another 14% of job seekers thinking about quitting say they would stay in their jobs if everything changed, while one-quarter would not stay under any circumstances.
A full one-quarter of job seekers would consider a freelance or part-time position in order to resign from their jobs. Hospitality workers were more likely to consider a freelance or part-time job in order to quit (36% compared to 24% of everyone else). As we head toward the holidays, seasonal jobs could represent an appealing opportunity for this segment.
The Return to School
This school year is a marked difference from last year, when the majority of kids spent at least some of the time in remote learning, putting a huge strain on working parents. The beginning of the 2021-22 school year and reopening of many schools for the first time since the pandemic began is a welcome change for many of these parents — and mothers, in particular.
The vast majority (83%) of job seekers with school-age children report that their kids are returning to in-person instruction this school year. In contrast, most job seekers with school-age children (70%) say that their kids participated in remote schooling last school year.
The return to in-person school is expected to improve the job prospects for a segment of working parents. 22% of job seekers whose kids are returning to in-person instruction this year say that the return to school will make their job search easier while another 23% say they aren’t sure of the impact. Nearly half of parents say that the return to school will not impact their job search, with full-time employed parents more likely to fall in this group (56% compared to 38% of part-time employed parents). Mothers are more likely than fathers to say that their kids’ return to school will make their job search easier (25% compared to 17%) and less likely than fathers to say that it will have no impact (56% to 42%).
A sizable share (40%) of parents whose kids participated in remote school last year report that remote school impacted their work situations. The most common impact that parents reported was a reduction in hours or changed schedule (by 13% of parents whose kids were in remote school).
The impacts of remote schooling affected mothers and fathers differently. While mothers and fathers were about equally as likely to say they left a job to stay home with their children because of remote learning, mothers were more likely than fathers to say that they reduced their work hours or changed their schedule (15% compared to 9%). Mothers were also twice as likely as fathers to have changed jobs due to remote learning (6% compared to 3%). Fathers more frequently reported that remote school didn’t impact their work situation (68% compared to 55%).
Job Seeker Confidence & The Delta Variant
Our measure of how job seekers feel about the job market each month — the Job Seeker Confidence Index — reached its highest level of the pandemic in June 2021. However, with the rise of the Delta variant, it dropped in July before leveling out in August and September. This marks the first decrease in the Job Seeker Confidence Index since November 2020, at the beginning of last winter’s COVID-19 surge.
Job seeker expectations generally worsened in Q3. In August, more job seekers (14%) thought the job market would get worse the following month than did in July (11%), while the percent who expected the job market to improve declined slightly over the quarter. In July, 37% of job seekers expected the job market to improve next month, but by September, this share had dropped to 34%. This is a marked decrease from more optimistic days in the spring and early summer, when 43% of job seekers expected the job market to improve the following month.
There were some signs of improvement, however. The share of job seekers who view the job market as “easy” increased slightly over the quarter (from 16% in July to 19% in September), while the share of job seekers who view the job market as “somewhat difficult” or “difficult” stayed relatively flat. Additionally, the share of job seekers who think it will take less than a month to find a new job increased steadily over the quarter, from 46% in July to 52% in September.
While job growth has slowed considerably from early in the summer, there are nearly 11 million job openings currently — a record since the BLS began collecting this data in 2000. Now that most schools and daycares have reopened and bonus unemployment benefits have expired, labor shortages may ease. And as the Delta surge subsides, the job market recovery will hopefully get back on track.
We surveyed 13,659 job seekers about their outlook on the job market and expectations for the future. We surveyed an additional 1,481 current and former hospitality workers about their experiences in the industry and career plans. We also surveyed 1,083 job seekers with school-age children about remote learning and how school reopenings this fall would affect their job prospects. Finally, we surveyed another 10,055 job seekers about the Great Resignation and considerations related to quitting their jobs.
All 26,278 survey respondents were Joblist users in the United States. The surveys were conducted over the course of July, August, and September 2021.
This data has not been weighted, and it comes with some limitations. All of the information in this study relies on self-reporting. With self-reporting, respondents may overreport or underreport their answers and feelings to the questions provided.
The Joblist Job Seeker Confidence Index was created from several survey questions — how difficult job seekers perceive the market to be, how long they expect it will take to find a new job, and how optimistic they are about the future of the job market. Survey responses were rescaled and averaged to create a composite index. A Confidence Index of 80 or more would denote a very high degree of job seeker confidence, whereas a Confidence Index of 25 or less would denote an extremely low degree of confidence. Job seeker confidence has remained squarely in the middle of these extremes throughout the pandemic.
Fair Use Statement
It’s difficult to predict exactly what the future will hold, but we hope this data helps paint a more vivid representation of the job market in America today. Share these findings with your readers for any noncommercial use by including a link back to this page so they have full access to our methodology and results.
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