People Still Quit Jobs, but More Office Workers Are Staying Put

American workers quit 4.2 million jobs in August, but one class of workers seems to get cold feet when they change employers or quit to take a career break: office workers.

People with jobs classified as freelance and business services, including those working in occupations such as accounting, engineering, office administration, legal and consulting services, quit in far fewer numbers in August than in previous months, according to the latest federal data. Worries about slowdowns, such as Amazon.com Inc.’s recently announced hiring freeze for retail workers, could weigh on workers’ confidence about how quickly they could find a new job.

The 12% drop to 682,000 layoffs in the sector was the biggest one-month drop since April 2020, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed. In the finance and insurance category, workers filed 100,000 resignations, down 7.3% from 109,000 in July. At the same time, layoffs among low-wage workers rose sharply: the 956,000 layoffs in August in the leisure and hospitality sectors are the most in a single month, according to records dating back to 2000.

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“Employees are becoming more conservative, while hospitality workers are still quitting and finding higher wages,” said Andrew Flowers, labor economist at Appcast, a recruitment software company.

Overall, August layoffs stayed near pre-pandemic lows, but workers’ fears of an uncertain future are growing amid a spate of high-profile layoff plans at Goldman Sachs Group inc,

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gap inc

and Facebook’s parent meta-platforms inc

In the first quarter of 2022, US worker productivity fell to its sharpest decline in 74 years. The WSJ’s Jon Hilsenrath explains why productivity is central to the economy and why recovering from large downturns can be difficult. Figure: Reshad Malekzai

Sergio Trevino started a new job at a creative agency in Houston in August, where he’s been a freelance video shooter and editor since the spring. The role pays about 65% more than he made as general manager of a pizza parlor, a job he took years earlier because it gave him the flexibility of being in a band. Recently, he has also wished for more creativity in his job.

“I felt a little unfulfilled,” said Mr. Trevino, who is 39. “Coming from a more artistic background, I don’t do anything that scratches that itch.”

There are signs of an easing on the labor market: the number of newly opened jobs fell by more than 1.1 million to 10.1 million between July and August. While layoffs in retail jobs have risen relative to other sectors, they fell to near pre-pandemic levels for the sixth straight month as the hiring rate eased.

The drop in Midwest job vacancies, nearly 600,000 fewer jobs than in July, accounted for more than half of the national contraction, BLS data shows. Resignations in the region also fell, while remaining stable or increasing in other parts of the country.

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“People in our region know that economic downturns unfortunately tend to hit hardest and earliest here. So with the current uncertainty in the economy, people are taking the safer route in the short term,” said Taylor Evans, founder and chief executive officer of Rust Belt Recruiting in Cleveland. The rate of manufacturing hiring has slowed, he added, but not at an alarming pace as many companies make significant investments to bring their jobs and workers back to the United States

According to the BLS, each sector hired more people than they laid off in August, suggesting workers who left their jobs were able to find new ones. Wages and salaries rose 5.3% in the 12 months to June, according to BLS data.

Persistent large numbers of people quitting have the potential to keep wages rising, although that’s likely to slow, said Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed.

“My simple rule of thumb is this is how the attrition rate goes, this is how wage growth goes,” Mr Bunker said.

Write to Kathryn Dill at [email protected]

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