Americans continued to quit their jobs at an aggressive pace in February, underscoring how persistent turmoil in the labor market has made it difficult for employers to fill open positions.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that 4.4 million Americans, or about 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs in February. That's down from the previous 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 fell slightly to 11.3 million by the end of February – the third-highest level on record.
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 four decades, however, has eroded the pay gains for many workers: The government reported earlier this month that average hourly earnings for all employees actually decreased 2.6% in February from the same month a year ago when factoring in the impact of rising consumer prices. On a monthly basis, average hourly earnings decreased 0.8% in February.
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 March jobs report on Friday morning, which is expected to show that employers hired 490,000 workers following a gain of 678,000 in February. The unemployment rate is expected to inch down to 3.7%, the lowest since the pandemic began two years ago.