Another 4 million workers just quit for the fourth month in a row, and it shows how Americans are rethinking work in a way they haven’t in decades

Now hiring sign
Photo of a help wanted sign along Middle Country Road in Selden on July 20, 2021. Thomas A. Ferrara/Newsday RM/Getty Images
  • For the fourth month in a row, workers have quit their jobs at a record rate.
  • It may reflect workers’ desire for higher wages, better benefits, or more job satisfaction.
  • But that quits rate could also reflect how the Delta variant is holding back recovery, and keeping people from in-person work.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A record number of workers quit their jobs in July – again.

The latest data release from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary shows that workers are still reconsidering and leaving work en masse, even as job openings reach a record high.

In July, 3.98 million workers quit their jobs, an increase from 3.87 million in June. That number comes in just slightly below April’s record-breaking 3.99 million quits, which was the highest level seen since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the data in 2000.

Now, at least 3.6 million workers have been quitting their jobs every month for a third of the year. It’s a quitting trend unlike anything seen in at least the last two decades. It could signal that all of 2021 will be filled with employers scrambling to hire workers who are rethinking what they want out of work, and acting on it.

As Insider's Ben Winck reports, job openings have climbed for the last seven months, and have reached record highs for five straight months. While economists predicted that July openings would fall below 10 million, they rose to a record high of 10.9 million instead. That means that openings still outnumber jobless workers who could fill them. Glassdoor economist Nick Bunker wrote on Twitter that openings had reached pre-pandemic levels across all major industry sectors.

But July's quits rate signals that workers still aren't ready for a return to normal. It could be that workers are still holding out for higher-paying roles, or ones with better benefits. Americans have been rethinking work for months as the economy reopens, and some might be feeling what Fortune Magazine calls "turnover shock." That's where a major event - a pandemic would definitely qualify - causes one to reconsider their satisfaction with work.

The July jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that wages ticked up for everyone, with leisure and hospitality seeing 9.6% wage growth over the previous year. Upping wages has proven to be one effective mechanism for hiring - and retaining - workers amidst the hot labor market.

And the leisure and hospitality quits rate did drop slightly in July, falling to 5.1% from 5.2% in the month prior. But that still means that 780,000 leisure and hospitality workers quit their jobs in July, signaling a continued reluctance to remain in low-wage, in-person jobs.

Importantly, the July data likely doesn't wholly reflect the curveball that the Delta variant has thrown at the economy. At the end of July, as the more contagious variant began to spread and dominate US cases, markets began to waver, and experts predicted that, if left unchecked, the variant could shutter some areas of economic recovery. As Insider's Winck reports, the dismal jobs numbers from August shows that the variant has done just that.

The Delta variant may have played a role in driving some of those quits, as health-concerned workers hastened to quit in-person roles.

All told, it's yet another month of unprecedented quits and openings. As the economy began to slowly reopen, economists have pointed to September as the month that a clearer picture of shortages - which are right now likely driven by virus fears and lack of childcare - will emerge. If quits remain this high, an even bigger realignment of work could be coming.