by Harry Wilmerding

A record number of American workers quit their jobs in November 2021 as the gap between available jobs and potential workers continues to increase, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Over 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November 2021, a jump from October’s 4.1 million, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Tuesday.

Quits in accommodation and food services saw the greatest increase, 159,000, while other low-wage sectors like health care, social assistance, transportation, warehousing and utilities also saw spikes as workers looked for jobs with higher pay.

Meanwhile, job openings decreased to 10.6 million in November from October’s 11.1 million figure. December’s job openings number is still higher, however, than any other month since before the pandemic began, according to The New York Times.

“Employer demand is still extremely high, and the result of that is increased competition for workers,” Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the Glassdoor, told the NYT. “That means more job openings, higher wages and more churn in the labor market.”

Meanwhile, the Omicron variant poses a possible short-term labor market risk, Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed, told The Wall Street Journal, adding that the new variant could ease demand for workers while consumers’ demand for goods slows.

Omicron could also impact the labor market if schools close and child care programs are disrupted, limiting people’s ability to work, Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thorton, told the WSJ.

“The biggest thing to watch is participation–if Omicron affects it. That’s what I’m really worried about as we get into January,” Swonk said.

The U.S. economy added only 210,000 jobs in November, one of the weakest figures since President Joe Biden took office.

December’s jobs report is scheduled for release on Jan. 7. Economists surveyed by the WSJ projected a gain of 405,000 jobs in December, with the unemployment rate dropping to 4.1% from November’s 4.2% figure.

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