What Can New JOLTS Data Tell Us About People Who Want to Quit Their Jobs?

Last week’s job numbers were generally positive. Now if those numbers pick up steam, if the housing market begins to recover, if Europe doesn’t sink the U.S. economy, if the situation in the Middle East and especially Iran doesn’t cause oil prices to spike, and if we don’t immediately disrupt government spending through premature austerity, we could see some major job growth in 2012.

What about those who still have a job? We focus on the unemployed for many good reasons. Economists do this because it is so miserable to be unemployed in this country and because the unemployed function as a good barometer for the health of the economy. We “see” changes in unemployment in the data much quicker than movements in GDP and other economic aggregates.

But the economy also has major problems for those with jobs. Be honest: how many of you spent the past two months thinking, “I’m going to quit this job I have now”? Many friends of mine have discussed how they want to move on and quit their current jobs and were putting in the energy to find new ones. They’ve mostly failed and are taking it as a personal failure.

Except it’s less a personal failure than a macroeconomic one.

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out their Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data for December 2010. The “quit rate” — how many people are walking out of their jobs — was flat for the month at the very low 1.5 percent rate, and still significantly lower than it’s been over the past decade. The quit rate for those with jobs plummeted during the the recession and it’s never recovered. And it’s remained stagnant even as there’s been some encouraging signs for the unemployed. Here is how the rate looks historically:

I also have a few friends — both employed and unemployed — who have been strung along by potential new jobs, and I imagine this is happening to many people. They hear a lot of “we’ll let you know soon” over the course of several months with no actual offer or hiring on the horizon. Again, think macroeconomics — the job hire rate also plummeted and has stayed flat recently.

The problem isn’t just that there are so many people who have been unemployed for over 99 weeks — the problems exist for everyone, even those with jobs.

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