As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, workers abandoned their jobs in record numbers. In 2020, as the virus tore through the economy, the labor force participation rate saw its largest drop ever, from 63.2 percent in the final quarter of 2019 to 60.8 percent in the second quarter of 2020, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which also noted that the first year of the pandemic saw about 2.4 million “excess retirements,” involving people who in normal times would not have been expected to stop working for good. In November 2021 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4.5 million people, nearly 3 percent of American workers, quit their jobs. As the end of the year neared, there were roughly 4 million fewer workers in the labor force than before the pandemic.
The industries hit hardest by the wave of quitting include tech, health care, and child care. The year 2020 saw 3.6 percent more health care employees quit their jobs than the previous year, according to the Harvard Business Review. According to the latest data available in December 2021, day care and education jobs were down 10 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, from their pre-COVID February 2020 peaks. More than 1.5 million women were still missing from the labor force.
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