A record number of Americans quit their jobs in March, underscoring how one of the tightest labor markets in decades has made it difficult for employers to fill open positions.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that 4.5 million Americans, or about 3% of the workforce, quit their jobs in March. That's up from 4.4 million in February and just slightly tops the previous record notched in November. By comparison, pre-pandemic levels typically hovered around 3.6 million.
Meanwhile, the number of job openings rose to 11.5 million by the end of March.
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 new 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 last month that average hourly earnings for all employees actually declined 2.7% in March from the same month a year ago when factoring in the impact of rising consumer prices.
On a monthly basis, average hourly earnings tumbled by 0.8% in March, when factoring in the 1.2% 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 eight consecutive months; before the pandemic began in February 2020, the highest on record was 7.7 million.
The data precedes the release of the April jobs report on Friday morning, which is expected to show that employers hired 400,000 workers following a gain of 431,000 in March. The unemployment rate is expected to inch down to 3.5%, the lowest since the pandemic began two years ago.