Retail workers in August walked out on their jobs at one of the highest rates in the nation, with a total 721,000 quitting that month, according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Their quit rate — which the Labor Department in its release said "can serve as a measure of workers' willingness or ability to leave jobs" — was 4.7% in August, a high since April. In the wider labor market, the overall quitting rate rose to a series high 2.9%, while the rate of layoffs and discharges was little changed at 0.9%, per the report.
Job openings in retail are piling up just as the holidays approach, with 1.2 million retail jobs open in August this year, compared to 734,000 a year ago. But retailers are falling behind, hiring 911,000 in August this year, compared to 922,000 last year.
Retail workers' willingness to quit helps explain why hiring has been short of expectations in the last two months.
Employers didn't fill as many jobs as expected during August or September, despite the end of many unemployment benefits and the beginning of school, Wells Fargo economists noted in emailed comments last week.
"The end of emergency unemployment insurance and kids returning to campus this September was not the silver bullet for the jobs recovery many hoped for," Wells Fargo's Sarah House and Michael Pugliese said.
The situation is leading retailers to sweeten their job offers as they prep for the holidays, and many plan to hire workers to stay on beyond the season, according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Employers are increasingly working to address burnout, raise wages, offer perks like child care and family support, and provide avenues for career advancement, according to Andrew Challenger, the firm's senior vice president.
"While job cuts are at record lows, hiring announcements exploded in September, a month when many big box retailers, shipping, and warehousing companies announce seasonal hiring plans," Challenger said in a statement. "This year, many hiring announcements are for permanent workers rather than seasonal ones."