Employers Still Can’t Get Ahead: Quits Soar to Record-High 4.3M and 10.4M Job Openings in August

October 13, 2021
Author: Mallory Vachon, Ph.D., Sr. Economist

Total job openings across the U.S. decreased slightly by 660,000 to 10.4 million in the month of August per the JOLTS report (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Oct. 12. The numbers track the volume of job openings, hires, quits, and other separations, reported on a two-month delay.

The August 2021 JOLTS report shows strong hiring but high churn from a troubling record number of quits.

While the number of job openings remained high, the COVID-19 Delta variant continued to limit businesses’ ability to fill open roles both because of uncertainty and worker concerns over health and safety. Challenges with the supply chain have made it difficult for businesses to both make and sell products.

Nonetheless, hiring remained relatively steady at 6.3 million jobs, while 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, up from 4 million in July. These August numbers come days after a disappointing September jobs report on Friday, Oct. 8, and represent the highest monthly total quits since the BLS data series began in December 2000.

Occupations with the Biggest August Changes

The top 5 occupations with the most job openings for August were, as to be expected, occupations with the largest overall percentage of U.S. workers:

  1. Professional & Business Services: 1,810,000
  2. Health Care & Social Assistance: 1,538,000
  3. Accommodation & Food Service: 1,494,000
  4. Retail Trade: 1,186,000
  5. Transportation, Warehousing & Utilities: 537,000

The Good News – August 2021 Top Industries for Net Hires

Here is a look at industries with the biggest positive difference in hires versus total separations (voluntary quits, involuntary layoffs and firings, retirement and death).

  1. Professional and Business Services: +66,000
  2. Arts, Entertainment and Recreation: +63,000
  3. Educational Services: +58,000
  4. Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities: +48,000

The Bad News – August 2021 Worst Industries for Quits

These two industries with the most workers leaving their jobs experienced huge rates of churn caused primarily by voluntary employee resignations. These are industries that traditionally have high levels of turnover, but supply chain issues and COVID-19 surges have impacted talent supply in 2020 and 2021.

  1. Accommodation and Food Services: 892,000 quits
    Quits were up 157,000 from July, accounting for nearly two thirds of the national increase in quits. The industry made more than 1 million hires in August, down nearly 200,000 from July.

  2. Retail Trade: 721,000 quits
    Quits were up 39,000 from July, and hires were up modestly to just under 1 million.

Part of this churn is simply the nature of these industries. However, the high expense of constantly hiring, onboarding and training new hires could be moderated if these employers focus on improving retention through offering competitive pay and improved training and working conditions, as business allows. Talent intelligence tools like LaborIQ® by ThinkWhy are useful for companies with an interest in improving retention.

Labor Force Outlook

ThinkWhy projects that the U.S. will reach 73 million hires for 2021, from a combination of filling current job openings, backfilling jobs and adding new jobs. With 6.3 million jobs in August, this estimate is on track. Job gains have been well below expectations the past two months; with the Delta variant reaching its peak in mid-September and the economy gearing up for the holiday season, expect hiring to pick up moderately in the fall.


LaborIQ by ThinkWhy reports, forecasts and advises on employment conditions and the impact to jobs, industries and businesses across all U.S. cities.