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The Great Resignation: These U.S. states are seeing the highest quit rates

·6 min read

The Great Resignation — the phenomenon of American workers quitting their jobs in pursuit of new opportunities amid the pandemic — varies across the U.S.

A new study from WalletHub used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to rank U.S. states and D.C. based on their resignation rates over the latest month and last 12 months. The data took into account the number of employees who left their job voluntarily, excluding firings, retirements, and transfers.

“Different states have different economies, and we are seeing a greater increase in quit rates in states where there are fewer remote work options and lower unemployment rates,” Joyce Jacobsen, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, wrote in the study. “The low unemployment rates mean that there are more options for workers to move to jobs that are more attractive to them.”

Alaska and South Carolina topped the list of states with the highest quits ranking based on the methodology. Despite having the fourth smallest population size, Alaska's resignation rate for the previous 12 months neared 4%.

New York ranked the lowest with a resignation rate of 1.87% over the past 12 months. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Minnesota also saw lower worker turnover.

'The labor market in the post-pandemic era is going through a significant change'

Workers are in high demand for employers as job openings have remained near historically high levels.

“The key takeaway American workers should get from [the study] is the fact that the labor market in the post-pandemic era is going through a significant change that favors employees,” WalletHub Analyst Jill Gonzales told Yahoo Finance. “There is a surge in job openings, and a low supply of candidates to fill all the open positions. This gives applicants a lot of leverage, enabling them to negotiate better terms of employment and to take advantage of all the incentives offered by employers."

Roughly 47.8 million workers left their jobs in 2021. And according to the most recent JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, resignation rates remain elevated — the national quits rate ticked up by 0.1% to 2.9% in February — while job openings sit at 11.27 million as the economy recovers from the effects of the pandemic.

"While resignation rates in January were still fairly high, the most noticeable pattern is that for most states these rates are lower than the average resignation rates of the past 12 months," Gonzales said. "This could indicate that the labor market is slowly starting to settle and employers and employees are finding common ground in terms of work schedule and environment."

**HOLD For BIZ** A hiring sign is seen outside of Accurate Personnel office (employment agency) in Buffalo Grove, Ill., Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. A week after Thanksgiving, Illinois on Thursday reported this year's highest daily total of new coronavirus cases, while COVID-19 hospitalizations have risen higher than any point since last winter. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
A hiring sign is seen outside of Accurate Personnel office (an employment agency) in Buffalo Grove, Ill., Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. Workers quitting at high rates has been dubbed "The Great Resignation." (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

There are a number of factors driving workers to change jobs, including toxic work environments under poor management, the explosion in gig work and self-employment opportunities, the prevalence of remote work and flexibility, and the demand for increased benefits.

During the pandemic, these factors "came together in a single interactive, society-wide event to trigger the Great Resignation," Dr. Anthony Wheeler, dean of Widener University's School of Business, told Yahoo Finance in a statement.

And while workers have been quitting at higher rates across the board, Wheeler explained, the "intensity" of the turnover varies across industries.

"We know that the retail sector has been hardest hit with quit rates; but the level of quit rates isn’t the same in other industries or job categories," he said. "For the harder hit industries, quit rates happened in specific contexts. Some jobs required in-person contact under quite stressful dynamics. This leads to increased stress and burnout."

According to Wheeler, signs of worker dissatisfaction and burnout were present prior to the pandemic.

"Some of what I find so fascinating about the Great Resignation... is how much of this wave of turnover has been predictable — it’s just that the pandemic acted as an accelerant," he said. "In the U.S., we’ve known for several years that burnout was an unspoken but highly experienced pandemic... [and] for decades that flexible work arrangements did not negatively impact employee performance or company financial performance."

Gabby Ianniello, 28, who quit her job in real estate development last year, works on her podcast, Corporate Quitter, in New York City, U.S. December 10, 2021 in this still image taken from video on December 10, 2021. REUTERS/Aleksandra Michalska
Gabby Ianniello, 28, who quit her job in real estate development last year, works on her podcast, Corporate Quitter, in New York City, U.S. December 10, 2021 in this still image taken from video on December 10, 2021. REUTERS/Aleksandra Michalska

Great Resignation 'could just as quickly unwind'

The duration of the Great Resignation is still unfolding, as U.S. workers who temporarily exited the labor force after quitting are expected to return to fill more job openings while pandemic precautions subside.

“We do not know how sticky the trends are or if they’re bound by the specific context of the pandemic," Wheeler said. "For as quickly as the Great Resignation occurred, it could just as quickly unwind.”

The national unemployment rate is currently at 3.8% while the labor force participation rate, which stands at 62.3%, continues to edge back towards pre-pandemic levels (63.4%). As the pandemic abates, some of the challenges holding workers back from the workforce may dissipate.

“As school and child care, COVID restrictions expire and child care availability improves, I expect some increase in women’s participation in the labor force,” Jacobsen wrote in the study. “There will also be more people who simply run up against financial constraints and reenter the labor force because they need the additional income.”

In the meantime, employers have been looking at alternative ways to fill gaps in their labor force, including by deploying the latest technological innovations.

"The Great Resignation has occurred in the relatively early portion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will come to displace entire job categories and industries as automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning continue to mature and decrease in cost," Wheeler said. "Some companies might have held off on deploying technology, especially in customer-facing jobs, but now find that technological solutions are both cheaper and more efficient than human employees."

Although tech innovators have assured workers that these advancements would not displace workers, Wheeler warned that "the Great Resignation could turn into the first labor shock associated with technologically-displaced workforces."

"We just might not know or see that yet but could in retrospect," he added.

Luke is a producer for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @theLukeCM.

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