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Americans left their jobs at a record level for the second straight month in September — in many cases for more money elsewhere as companies bump up pay to fill job openings that are close to an all-time high.
The U.S. Department of Labor said Friday 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, or about 3 percent of the nation's workforce. That's up from 4.3 million in August and far above the pre-pandemic level of 3.6 million.
There were 10.4 million job openings, down from 10.6 million in August, which was revised higher.
The figures point to an historic level of turmoil in the job market as newly empowered workers quit jobs, often for higher pay or better working conditions.
Incomes are rising, Americans are spending more and the economy is growing, and employers have ramped up hiring to keep pace. Rising inflation, however, is offsetting much of the pay gains for workers.
Friday's report follows the previous week's jobs report, which showed that employers stepped up their hiring in October, adding 531,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, from 4.8 percent.
In Iowa, first-time jobless claims rose from the week before, to 2,324 from 2,074. Continuing claims were reported by Iowa Workforce Development at 9,417 — that’s up from the previous week’s 8,854.
Linn County saw initial applications for unemployment benefits at 137 — that’s down by six people from the previous week. Johnson County, however, had a slight rise, recording 58 requests — up by six — for new benefits.
State and national numbers don’t reflect the entire jobless situation has they count only those actively seeking work that week and don’t include those who have cycled out of the program or who have stopped looking.
Hiring nationwide rebounded as the delta wave of the coronavirus, which had restrained job gains in August and September, faded.
It is typically perceived as a signal of worker confidence when people leave the jobs they hold. The vast majority of people quit for a new position.
The number of available jobs has topped 10 million for four consecutive months. The record before the pandemic was 7.5 million.
There were more job openings in September than the 7.7 million unemployed, illustrating the difficulties so many companies have had finding workers.
In addition to the number of unemployed, there are about 5 million fewer people looking for jobs compared with pre-pandemic trends, making it much harder for employers to hire.
Economists cite many reasons for that decline: Some are mothers unable to find or afford child care, while others are avoiding taking jobs out of fear of contracting COVID-19.
Stimulus checks this year and in 2020, as well as extra unemployment aid that since has expired, has given some families more savings and enabled them to hold off from looking for work.
Nationwide, quitting has risen particularly sharply in industries that are mostly made up of in-person service jobs — restaurants, hotels, and retail — and factories where people work in close proximity. That suggests that at least some people quitting are doing so out of fear of COVID-19 and may be leaving the workforce.
Goldman Sachs, in a research note Thursday, estimated most of the 5 million are older Americans who have decided to retire. Only about 1.7 million are aged 25 through 54, which economists consider prime working years.
Goldman estimates most of those people in their prime working years will return to work in the coming months, but that would still leave a much smaller workforce than before the pandemic.
That could leave employers facing labor shortages for months or even years.
Competition for workers is intense for retailers and delivery companies — particularly as they staff up for what is expected to be a healthy winter holiday shopping season.
Online giant Amazon.com, for example, is hiring 125,000 permanent drivers and warehouse workers and offering pay between $18 and $22 an hour. It's also paying sign-on bonuses of up to $3,000.
Seasonal hiring also is ramping up.
Package delivery company UPS is seeking to add 100,000 workers to help with the crush of holiday orders, and plans to make job offers to some applicants within 30 minutes.
The Gazette contributed the Iowa figures to this report.