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A Real-Time Look at ‘The Great Resignation’: December 2021

Luke Pardue Economist, Gusto 

Each month the BLS releases data on the labor market turnover in their Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report. The BLS release on January 4th, 2022 covers employment trends—hiring, terminations, and job openings in November 2021 – and of particular interest recently has been data on employee quit rates. In October, workers left their jobs at a near record-high level of 2.8%, as the US economy continues a period experts have termed the “Great Resignation.” 

New platform data from Gusto, the payroll and HR platform serving over 200,000+ small and medium-sized businesses, offers insights into how these trends are evolving in real-time, through the end of December, and at a level of detail not available in public statistics – in particular, by age group, gender, and geography. 

Key Findings

  • Quits to Remain at Record Levels: Among workers at businesses on Gusto’s platform, quits have plateaued after coming down from August’s series high of 5%. The quit rate stood at 3.4% in both November and December. While below the summer highs, these numbers are still above last year’s rate of 2.7% in November 2020 and 3.1% in December 2020 – suggesting the JOLTS numbers are likely to stay near their record levels in the months to come.     
  • Quits Still Driven by Women: The gender gap in quits rate continues, as women leave work at consistently higher rates: in December 2021, 3.7% women quit their jobs, compared to 3.2% of men – a gender gap of 0.5 percentage points.   
  • Personal Services Hit Hardest: Quits have been highest over the summer and fall in the personal services sectors—such as Accommodations, Food & Beverage, Sports & Recreation, and Retail—as workers in these sectors search for other opportunities amid a continuing epidemic. In December, quits were at their highest rates in Facilities (6.8%) and Food & Beverage (6.7%).
  • Quits Highest in Middle America, Lowest on Coasts: In December 2021, workers were quitting their jobs at the highest rates in Kansas (6.4%), Idaho (5.5%), and Nebraska (4.8%). The lowest quit rates were seen in New Jersey (3%), California (3%), and Massachusetts (2.9%).       

Overall Trends in Quits

First, Figure 1 plots the percent of workers voluntarily terminated (the “quit rate”) among companies using Gusto’s platform, by month, from January 2020 through December 2021. Mirroring public data, Gusto’s quits rate reached a series high in August of 2021 of 5%. Since that point, the quits rate has fallen to 3.4% in both November and December 2021 – similar to rates seen in May 2021. Though a dip from the record highs, these rates are still elevated compared to last year, when the quit rate was 3.1% in December 2020.   

Figure 1: Quits Rate: All Workers

Quits by Industry

Figure 2 presents quits rates broken down by industry. Workers are leaving their jobs at the highest rates in service-sector businesses. The highest quit rates in December were seen in Facilities (6.8%), Food & Beverage (6.7%), and Accommodations (5.2%). This is the fourth straight month these sectors have experienced the highest quit rates, which reflects an economy-wide shift underway, as workers leave service-sector jobs in search of job opportunities with more flexibility and higher pay.   

Figure 2: Quits by Industry

Quits Across the Country

Figure 3 plots a map of the quit rate in December 2021 across the US, and Figure 4 features states with the highest quit rates over the past four months – September to December 2021. These rates are highest in Kansas (6.4%), Idaho (5.5%), and Nebraska (4.8%). The lowest quit rates were seen in New Jersey (3%), California (3%), and Massachusetts (2.9%). Data for all available states is presented in this appendix of this post.  

Figure 3: Quits by State, December 2021

Figure 4: Quits Rate by State, Past 4 Months

Quits by Gender

While public data does not break down quits rates by gender, on Gusto’s platform we can track such series. In August 2021, the quits rate among men was 4.4%, while the quits rate among women was 5.5%: that is a 1.1 percentage point gap in the quits rate by gender, the widest gap on Gusto’s platform since this series started in January in 2020. This gap has narrowed since then, but stood at a 0.81 percentage point gap in October, a 0.64 percentage point gap in November, and a 0.52 percentage point gap in December.

Figure 7: Quits by Gender

Quits by Age Group

Similarly, there are important differences in levels and patterns of quits across age groups, which aggregate data can mask. Figure 8 plots quit rates on Gusto’s platform by four age groups: those 15-19 years-old, 20-24, and 25-54 (“prime-age” workers), as well as those 55 and older. Several interesting patterns emerge: first, labor turnover is consistently higher among younger workers, who are more likely to work in hourly positions that follow seasonal patterns. The quits rate for 15-19 year-olds rose in August 2021 to 17.1% as a large share of teenagers hired this summer left work as the school year started. This rate has returned to more normal levels in December (7.6%).
Second, the continual rise in quits among “prime-age” workers 25-54 years-old–from 2.8% in December 2020 to 3.6% in August 2021 has also been returning to levels seen last year, reaching 3% in December.  As “prime-age” workers 25-54 make up 68% of employees on Gusto’s platform (matching the 64% of US workers nationally), the recent slowdown in quits among these workers is likely a headwind to a further acceleration of The Great Resignation.  

Figure 8: Quits by Age Group

Appendix

Table A.1: State-Level Quit Rates

StateQuit Rate: December 2021
KS6.4
ID5.5
NE4.7
TN4.5
MS4.4
AL4.4
IA4.3
PA4.2
IN4.2
WA4.1
ND4.0
HI4.0
GA3.9
VT3.9
FL3.9
AZ3.9
DE3.8
NM3.7
AR3.7
TX3.7
ME3.7
SC3.7
NH3.6
OH3.6
MI3.6
OR3.5
NY3.5
CO3.4
UT3.4
CT3.4
OK3.4
NV3.4
NC3.3
DC3.3
MT3.3
VA3.2
MN3.2
KY3.2
WY3.1
MO3.1
MD3.0
NJ3.0
CA3.0
IL3.0
MA2.9
RI2.8
LA2.8
WI2.8
Source: Gusto platform data

Updated: January 5, 2022

Luke Pardue
Luke Pardue Luke Pardue is an Economist at Gusto, researching how public policies help small businesses and their workers thrive. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, where he studied the effects of government programs on disadvantaged populations' housing and labor market outcomes. Luke currently lives in Washington, D.C.
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