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Posts published in “Day: October 29, 2021”

Lots of quitters


You’ve heard about the high rates of workers nationally who in recent months have been quitting their jobs are simply declining work in many places.

But that’s not happening equally everywhere. Turns out, according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, that Idaho is one of the top states in the nation for workers quitting their jobs: It has the third highest rate nationally, behind Kentucky and Georgia. (The numbers shift a little depending on what is counted.)

In some ways this seems counter-intuitive against some of the most visible statistics. Idaho has an unusually low unemployment rate; it’s hovered around 2.9 percent, nearly as low as it ever has been.

Nationally, too, there are plenty of jobs; while some problems - supply chains, inflation - persist, the economy as a whole is firing reasonably well. Covid-19 hasn’t greatly reduced the overall size of the labor force, despite the deaths and disabilities it is leaving us.

What’s happening with the large number of worker quits - and, partly as a result, the large number of job openings - seems to involve a number of reasons.

One is simply demographic: As an article in the Atlantic noted, “America’s prime-age population stopped growing more than a decade ago, and because of declining fertility rates, it’s unlikely to recover through natural growth alone.” For people nearing retirement or changing their mode of living, the pandemic may simply have provided a useful point of demarcation.

But all of that is a national trend (and Idaho doesn't greatly deviate from it). Why is Idaho near the top of the quit list?

If government action could reverse the trend, you might think Governor Brad Little’s early action in cutting back extra unemployment benefits months ago would have made a difference toward clinging to job. But it didn’t, statistically; and other states that similarly reduced benefits also have, for the most part, also seen high rates of quitting.

Every person and job has their own story; you may find a thousand reasons why people “separate” (to use the preferred government erm). But there are a few realistic reasons Idaho’s rates are on the high side.

One is that Idaho’s attack on pandemic spread - through shutdown, masking, distancing and so on - has been weaker than most other states (though not so different as a whole from Georgia or Kentucky, or many other high-quit states), and it was hit harder by the pandemic spread than other nearby states (see Oregon and especially Washington, which has a low job quit rate). If you’re concerned about getting sick on the job, or of spreading it to other people, that could provide an added incentive to depart.

Many of the anecdotes about job quits relate to wages and conditions, which in some places may have been made worse by the pandemic. It’s another tipping point.

In some states - mainly with low quit rates - unions and other worker organizations are stronger. Idaho, like most of the high quit-rate states, is a right to work state, where many unions are severely undercut. When workers sense, as many will without some kind of organizational backup, that they have only their departure as leverage against poor wages or conditions, then that’s the leverage they’ll use. It’s a kind of nuclear blast not greatly beneficial either to workers or employers, but it will be used as a last resort.

And there’s this: Idaho’s especially low unemployment rate, so low it almost becomes noise in the analytical big picture, means that if you quit one job, there’s probably another one down the road. As one news article suggested, “when you have a crappy job, for crappy wages, and a crappy employer who doesn't value you at all, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a labor market situation that actually encourages you to look for work elsewhere--what do you think is going to happen?”

Economic news, as any Wall Street trader could tell you, is rarely all good or bad; it just depends on where your positions are. Idaho is getting a look at what some of the shifts look like.