3.6 million Americans quit their jobs in May, and there's one job opening for every unemployed worker

3.6 million Americans quit their jobs in May, and there's one job opening for every unemployed worker
A man hands his resume to an employer at the 25th annual Central Florida Employment Council Job Fair at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
  • There's one worker per job opening as of May 2021.
  • The latest JOLTS report showed quits were still high, but not as high as the 20-year record in April.
  • Quits varied by industry. 859,000 workers in trade, transportation, and utilities left their jobs.

As the economy continues its strange reopening trajectory, May once again saw workers quitting in droves. The latest data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 3.6 million workers opted to leave their jobs, a quit rate of 2.5%.

That's lower than April's 20-year high, where just shy of 4 million workers left their jobs. Even so - April aside - it's still one of the highest levels since December 2000, when the BLS started collecting data on quits and vacancies. Meanwhile, 9.2 million jobs are open - about the same as in April.

"While no longer at record levels, the high level of quits means workers are still confident enough to leave their jobs for a new one," Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, wrote. "Elevated quits emphasize that labor shortages are a double whammy for employers-it's not just harder to hire workers right now, it's also harder to retain them."

On an industry wide level, trade, transportation, and utilities lead the pack for the pure number of workers quitting, with leisure and hospitality coming in a close second. However, the quit rate for leisure and hospitality remains the highest, staying firm at 5.3%. Within leisure and hospitality, the quit rate was unchanged for accommodation and food services at 5.7%.

The Economic Policy Institute has its own breakdown of how many available workers there are per job opening by industry using three-month averages of unemployment and job opening levels. The averages show mining and construction have the highest ratios of unemployed workers per job opening, at 3.3 and 2.1 respectively. Accommodation and food services is just below a ratio of 1, meaning there are more openings than unemployed workers in that industry.


Elise Gould, senior economist at EPI, noted on Twitter that when looking at data averaged over the last three months, several industries still have high ratios of unemployed workers to job openings.

Across the entire economy, there was one available worker for every job opening. It shows the continuation of a new pandemic trend: Job openings and unemployment simultaneously staying high, rather than jobless workers flocking to new positions and pushing unemployment down.

The Wednesday data release reflects the labor situation in May, which notably predates enhanced unemployment benefits ending in at least 26 states. That's a move governors have implemented to compel more workers back to the workforce, although it's a move that may be more based in politics than economics, according to JPMorgan.

All told, the data shows that workers may be reacting to a tight labor market by just opting out of jobs for any number of reasons. They could be retiring, or locating opportunities in new fields. Others may be burnt out or rage quitting jobs with poor conditions.

In the meantime, employers are trying to lure in workers with one-off bonuses that are paid out over the course of a few months, in an effort to increase retention. Wages are also ticking up higher, although leisure and hospitality pay - while greatly on the rise - still remains low.


But there's still a fiscal cliff looming: Millions of unemployed Americans will see their federal unemployment benefits end come September. It could also make it more difficult to quit and move around with ease as millions more reenter the labor force.