Americans continue to quit and change jobs at a rapid pace as job openings hit new highs

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U.S. employers posted a record 11.5 million job openings in March and some 4.5 million Americans resigned or moved, in line with previous highs, reflecting continued strength in the burgeoning job market, where workers continue to prevail.

Meanwhile, the number of new hires — 6.7 million — remained stable, according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Demand for workers remains piping hot,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. “This is very broad, enormous growth. Even though we have regained almost all the jobs lost during the pandemic, the job market is getting tighter and tighter.”

Strong job openings and data on employee departures may play a role in discussions about curbing inflation at the Federal Reserve, which is expected to announce another half-percentage-point rate hike on Wednesday. Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell cited the “extremely, historically” tight labor market as a key reason the economy is able to withstand higher interest rates without slipping into recession.

U.S. employers have added more than 400,000 jobs a month for nearly a year, while the unemployment rate of 3.6 percent is still close to record lows. In total, the number of vacancies in March grew by 36 percent compared to a year earlier. Demand for workers increased significantly in retail (where job openings increased by 155,000 as of February), manufacturing (up 75,000) and finance and insurance (up 51,000).

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That insatiable need for new hires has forced employers across the economy to offer higher wages and better benefits. Wages have risen 4.7 percent over the past year but have failed to keep pace with inflation, which has risen 8.5 percent over the same period. Economists say they expect worker wages to continue to rise in the coming months as companies compete for a limited pool of workers.

“These record shutdowns across the economy show that employers are under tremendous pressure,” Pollak said. “They will realize very quickly that offering huge compensation packages to new hires is not going to make it. They will also have to raise wages for existing employees.”

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According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Wage Growth Tracker, workers who switched jobs saw a 5.3 percent increase in median wages from a year ago, compared with a 4 percent growth for those who stayed put.

“The balance of power in wage negotiations has tilted toward workers,” Mickey Levy, America’s chief economist for Berenberg Capital Markets, wrote in a client note Tuesday.

Grace Oppy, 26, resigned from a New York art gallery in March. Less than a month later, she had landed a better-paying job as an assistant at a major financial company.

“There were a million job openings, which was so different from earlier in the pandemic when it was impossible to get a job,” said Oppy, who has been out of work for much of the past two years after leaving her marketing job in early 2020. Paris lost. “Now you can get a job. Can you afford to live? I’m not sure, but at least you can get hired.”

In addition to higher wages, many workers say the strong job market has encouraged them to take risks they might not otherwise consider. Many give priority to more flexible arrangements and a better work-life balance.

In Long Beach, California, Paula Hardy recently quit her job as a chiropractor at a women’s clinic to start her own mobile practice. After working six days a week for much of the pandemic, she felt burned out and unappreciated.

“I went from six figures a year to a lot less than that,” says Hardy, 38, who is also taking classes to become an acupuncturist. “But I’d rather do my own thing and eat ramen noodles, even if it’s more difficult financially.”

It was the second time that Hardy had switched jobs during the pandemic. The first time, in December 2020, she left a position as a docker chiropractor at the Port of Los Angeles after her boss insisted she keep coming to work even though she had the flu.

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“I was already disillusioned,” she said. “Then I got sick and it was clear they didn’t care. The pandemic made me realize that I don’t have to put up with that.”

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