Americans continued to quit their jobs in droves in December 2021, underscoring how persistent turmoil in the labor market has made it difficult for employers to fill open positions.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that 4.3 million Americans, or about 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs in December. That's down from a fresh high of 4.5 million in November, but well above the pre-pandemic level of about 3.6 million.
Meanwhile, the number of job openings rose to 10.9 million by the end of December.
The data emphasizes how newly empowered workers are quitting their jobs in favor of better wages, working conditions and hours as businesses lure new workers with higher salaries – a trend dubbed the "Great Resignation." As a result, Americans' incomes are rising across the board as employers have ramped up hiring to offset the losses.
The highest inflation in nearly 40 years, however, has eroded the pay gains for many workers: The government reported last month that average hourly earnings for all employees actually decreased 2.4% in December from the same month a year ago when factoring in the impact of rising consumer prices. On a monthly basis, average hourly earnings increased by just 0.1% in December, when factoring in the 0.5% inflation spike.
Resignations in December were concentrated in accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance, and transportation, housing and utilities. A majority of people quit for a new job.
The number of available jobs has topped 10 million for seven consecutive months; before the pandemic began in February 2020, the highest on record was 7.7 million.
The data precedes the release of the January jobs report on Friday morning, which is expected to show that employers hired just 153,000 new workers last month as the highly contagious omicron variant sidelined millions of Americans from the workforce. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, is expected to hold steady at 3.9%.