The Great Job Churn Has Ended

Unlike the labor-market turnstile of the pandemic, people are beginning to be a little more methodical in their job hunts.

Photo of a help wanted sign on a window
Photo by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

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It’s time to retire all those wonderful phrases that defined the pandemic-era job market: “The Great Resignation,” “quiet quitting,” “rage applying” — everyone’s pretty much staying put these days, like it or not. 

The US Labor Department announced on Wednesday that job openings fell to their lowest level in more than two years in November, slipping to 8.8 million vacancies from a slightly higher 8.85 million openings in October. The figure also came in slightly below economists’ expectations.

Staying Put

But it’s not just job openings that are steadily declining — hiring and “separations” (voluntary quits and not-exactly-voluntary layoffs) also fell again in November, giving more credence to the idea that whatever was going on during the height of the pandemic with first, massive layoffs, and then, massive hiring, is pretty much an anomaly. Indeed, as economist Elise Gould summed it up on X, the report is “evidence of a labor market returning to pre-pandemic levels.”  Gould noted that the quits rate has trended down with the decline in overall labor churn during the last 18 months. And at this point, hires, quits, and layoff rates are all below their pre-pandemic averages. 

Yet some wiggle room still remains for workers looking to trade up:

  • Despite November’s declines, the rate of hiring remains above the rate of quitting in every major sector surveyed, while lower-wage sectors continue to experience the highest levels of quits and hires. “The great reshuffling isn’t what it was two years ago,” Gould said on X, “but workers continue to quit to find better job opportunities.”
  • The latest data appears to set up a rather benign December jobs report on Friday, which is expected to show a slowing in the jobs-added level to about 162,000 from 199,000 in November, with a corresponding minor uptick in the unemployment rate to 3.8%. Having both figures fall somewhere in that ballpark will naturally give credence to the “soft landing” scenario that projects a mild economic slowdown absent an explosion in unemployment.

What About Us? None of which is to say that there still aren’t people dealing with long-term unemployment, and for them, a broad job-market equilibrium isn’t paying the bills. A report by Bloomberg on Wednesday even suggested that the broad low unemployment across the country has given cover to some state legislatures that have done little to boost or even maintain unemployment insurance benefits. Five states have weekly payment maximums under $300, Bloomberg said, while a third of states don’t account for wage growth or inflation in their payouts. That’s meant a tougher go for job-seekers living with the inflation of the past three years: groceries cost 25% more than at the beginning of 2020, according to Bloomberg, while used-car prices are up 35% and rents have climbed 20%. Apply your rage there, quietly.