On Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that received much less media fanfare than last week’s jobs report, yet is more telling in a number of ways about the health of U.S. labor market. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, gives us high-level information on job openings, hires, and separations.
Adam Davidson of NPR’s Planet Money had this post on JOLTS, and later on Tuesday he appeared on All Things Considered to talk about the new data. “What’s really helpful about the JOLTS reports … is it gives you a sense of what’s the overall story in this confusing economy,” he said in the interview.
Davidson went on to point out that Janet Yellen, Vice Chair at the Federal Reserve, pays attention to one particular line of the JOLTS report: what the BLS calls “quits” — the estimated number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs each month. At first glance, it might appear troublesome — or “alarming,” as Alan Hall put it in Forbes — that more than two million people quit their job each month. But the opposite it true. If people are leaving their job of their own volition, it’s a sign that they’re confident they can get another job.
Consider the huge drop in the number of quits, from over three million to under two million, when the recession was in full force and soon after it ended in the following chart from Calculated Risk. Quits have increased 13% since last year at this time, but what’s troubling is that they are nowhere near pre-recession levels.
It’s also illuminating to look at JOLTS data for specific industries and regions. The quits rate nearly doubled in construction, from 1.2% of the total employed in the industry in December 2012 to 2.2% in January. But it went down in manufacturing and professional and business services, and was mostly unchanged overall. The highest quits rate (3.6%) is in accommodation and food services, a sector with traditionally high turnover because of the sheer number of low-skilled workers and the nature of the work.
The biggest month-over-month quits rate increase was found in the Northeast (from 1.2% to 1.4%), but the region with the highest percentage of quits is the South (1.8%).
Find all the latest JOLTS data here.