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Labor

So Hot Right Now: Quitting

It's the feel-good trend of the summer!

"quit your job" by leesean is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I couldn’t tell you if now is the right time for you to quit your job. That’s between you, your god, and your bank account. What I can tell you is that if you’re thinking about giving your boss one final “fuck you” before pulling a full blown Jerry Maguire, at least you’re in good company these days.

According to a just-released Bureau of Labor Statistics Data Report, more Americans than ever before left their jobs this past August, taking nearly three percent of the entire U.S. workforce with them. It’s a nearly quarter of a million person uptick from the previous month, and more than a 1/3 increase from August of last year.

At this point you might be thinking “but wait? Isn’t it kind of weird that so many people are quitting their jobs in the middle of a catastrophic pandemic?” Great question! Fortunately, the BLS report offers this tantalizing data point: Of the record 4.3 million people who quit their jobs in August, nearly 900,000 worked in the food service and hospitality industry, and another 700,000 in retail. Consider as well that this all occurred just weeks before the government’s absolutely ass backwards decision to allow expanded unemployment benefits to lapse in early September, even though it’s one of the few unambiguously good things the government actually did over the past few years. So it’s not as if a record number of restaurant workers, hotel clerks, and bartenders put in their two weeks notice knowing that there’d at least an enhanced unemployment check to keep them housed and fed on the other side. And it’s important to note that that the same time than four million people quit their jobs, there were nearly 10.5 million job openings by the end of the month — more than half a million fewer than in July. And yet! Despite fewer jobs out there, people still quit in record numbers.

Take a step back, and the fact that so many people spent August taking their various jobs and shoving them should be seen as an encouraging moment in American labor history, occurring just as everyone from snack cracker makers to entertainment industry artisans to high rise window cleaners started flexing their union muscles through wholesale strikes and other disruptive work stoppages and barginanging tactics. Taken in tandem, there’s a pervading sense that workers who have spent the past two years laboring through a health crises and economic collapse — not to mention countless other related traumas — have seized the momentum and begun to exert themselves en masse against the forces have traditionally dictated their working conditions. In spite of what the employers of this country would have you believe, there isn’t a labor shortage so much as a growing realization among workers that some jobs aren’t worth the risks inherent in working during a pandemic — or in general. Put another way, workers are quitting their jobs in droves, and exerting their organizing power with a newfound confidence because the past few years have shown them how vital their labor truly is, and how much leverage they have in demanding more.

Of course, not everyone is in a position to quit their job. To be able to do so is, in and of itself, a level of privilege unevenly applied across industries, ethnicities, and class. But the fact that more people than ever are leaving their jobs suggests that more people are also realizing the only way that work gets better is when people band together — sometimes at great personal risk — to show the bosses of the world who really has the power.