Economists worried as job quit numbers stabilize

Every line of work has certain risks.

Cops wear Kevlar vests. CPAs never make opening day of the baseball season. Nurses and waiters risk foot problems. For editors, the risks tend more toward carpal tunnel and tryptophan.

And that makes Thanksgiving week a high risk zone. One of the symptoms is short-attention span writing, which looks like this:

There’s a quirky economic study out that says Americans aren’t quitting their jobs at the rate economists would expect.

In September, 2.7 million people left their jobs. But it’s a number that’s held steady for more than a year. From early 2010 to late 2014, the number of quits climbed steadily from 1.7 million to 2.7 million, in keeping with an improving economy. Then the growth of quits stopped.

“Employees do not seem confident enough in the labor market to quit jobs at nearly the rate they did during the last expansion,” UBS economist Samuel Coffin told USA Today.

Maybe. Or it could be one of those statistical anomalies that will start occurring as more Baby Boomers move out of the workforce.

Quitting, the theory goes, is a young person’s game. The young quit to chase better money, better opportunity, love and a host of other important-at-the-time reasons. The old stay put for fear of losing benefits, money, status and of exposing they don’t have the skills to succeed beyond what they’re doing now.

It could be that the more Baby Boomers bump into retirement age, the more they’re staying put. After all, that Great Recession did a number on healthy 401(k) accounts.

Or it could be that the folks in the middle – the Gen X and Y crowd – aren’t feeling confident enough to leave the comfortable seat for whatever comes next.

These are distinctions that matter to economists who look to quit statistics to validate the economy is turning from healthy to dynamic. So far, the quit statistics aren’t cooperating.

The unemployment numbers have fallen to 5.1 percent nationally, down about 0.8 in a year. That’s about a 15 percent improvement.

The picture in Nevada is a little more muddled. We keep showing up in lists of the biggest economic gainers, yet unemployment is still about 6.8 percent, down just 0.2 percent in a year.

It’s understandable that Nevadans aren’t quitting at a breakneck pace. It wasn’t that long ago that there were NO jobs to be had, particularly in Southern Nevada. A lot of former construction workers are still in their second careers and hoping the construction boom returns.

Then there’s the fact that a lot of Nevadans are still under water on their homes. It’s a national problem – 13 percent of homeowners are under water. But it’s worse here and our home prices haven’t recovered as well as many other markets.

The rise in part-time and contract labor could be a factor. This market has proven hard to track. So has the rise of the home-based “consultant.” But all of that could cut both ways – when you’re the boss, who do you tell to ‘take this job and shove it’?

I’d love to be able to postulate that employers have found the key to retention. But that’s not it. Raises are slow; training is slipping in the real world of ‘do more with less.’

So what’s it all mean? I hope you haven’t stayed with me this far in the hope of finding the answer. I’d like to share some thoughts but, frankly, it’s past my nap time. Let’s meet again here next week and do this again. I should be back to normal by then…. unless I dig into the leftovers…. again.


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