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Low pay and lack of opportunity drove ‘Great Resignation,’ poll says

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Story at a glance

  • The current labor force participation rate is about 62 percent, down from 63 percent in January 2020.
  • A survey by Pew Research Center found low pay, lack of opportunities to advance and feeling disrespected were the top reasons why Americans quit a job last year.
  • Only 18 percent of respondents overall cited their employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a reason for quitting.

The labor shortage is especially severe right now, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce finding January’s labor force participation rate at 62 percent. A recent survey identified what’s causing Americans to quit their jobs, with low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work the top reasons cited. 

The pro-business lobbying group found in 2021 overall, employers added 3.8 million jobs, while at the same time 2.2 million Americans have left the labor force since January 2020. That’s caused the labor force participation rate to drop from 63.3 percent in January 2020 to 62.3 percent one year later. 

Researchers at Pew Research Center decided to understand what’s driving so many Americans to leave the labor force, known as the “Great Resignation.”  

Researchers sampled about 9,300 panelists from Feb. 7 to Feb. 13 and found 63 percent of respondents quit a job in 2021 over both low pay and no opportunities for advancement. 

Another 57 percent cited feeling disrespected at work as a reason for why they quit. Other reasons people cited were because of childcare issues, not enough flexibility in work hours and inadequate benefits. 


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Interestingly, only 18 percent of respondents overall cited their employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a reason for why they quit. 

Pew’s survey also found that among adults who quit a job in 2021, those without a four-year college degree were more likely than those with at least a bachelor’s degree to point to several reasons for why they quit. Those included things like not having enough flexibility to decide when they put in their hours, having to work too few hours and their employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine. 

There were also notable differences by race and ethnicity. Non-white adults who quit a job in 2021 were more likely than their white counterparts to indicate they didn’t have enough flexibility on the job (52 percent vs. 38 percent), wanting to relocate to a different area (41 percent vs. 30 percent) and working too few hours (37 percent vs. 24 percent). 

Non-white adults who quit a job last year were also 27 percent more likely to indicate their employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine was a reason to quit their job, compared to only 10 percent of their white counterparts. 

Workers who quit in 2021 have made progress, as Pew found 55 percent of them are now employed full-time while 23 percent are working part-time. Of those, 61 percent said it was at least somewhat easy to find their current job, with 33 percent saying it was very easy. 

One-in-five indicated it was very or somewhat difficult to find a new job. 

Interestingly, many of the issues that drove respondents to quit in 2021 haven’t exceptionally improved in their new jobs. Fewer than half of workers who quit a job last year, 42 percent, said they now have better benefits. That includes things like health insurance and paid time off. 

About one-in-five, 22 percent, said their current benefits in their new job are worse than their last job. 

Responses also varied by age, with adults younger than 30 far more likely than older adults to have voluntarily left their job last year. About 37 percent of young adults said they voluntarily quit a job in 2021, compared to 17 percent of those ages 30 to 49 and 9 percent of those ages 50 to 64.  

The U.S Chamber of Commerce noted that because the federal government rolled out enhanced unemployment benefits during the pandemic, alongside stimulus checks and local lockdown measures, Americans collectively added $4 trillion to their savings account since early 2020. 

Enhanced unemployment benefits specifically added a few extra hundred dollars to unemployment assistance, which led to 68 percent of claimants earning more money on unemployment than they did while working. 


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