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'The Great Resignation': Why millions of workers are quitting their jobs

Thomas Gilbert of the Foster School of Business chats about the impact of millions of Americans voluntarily quitting. #newdaynw

Nearly every major American industry is being affected by what economists are calling "The Great Resignation." Millions of workers are quitting their jobs for a number of reasons — and limited staffing is leaving businesses unable to perform daily job functions effectively and efficiently. 

University of Washington Associate Professor of Finance and Business Economics Thomas Gilbert joined New Day NW to explain what's driving voluntary unemployment and what needs to happen to revert back to a healthy economy.

Gilbert said that help wanted signs are not a bad thing because they are a signal that customer and consumer demand is back up.

"That's good," he said. "We shouldn't look at help wanted signs and say, 'This is a terrible situation.'”

One underlying factor as to why people are unwilling to go back to work is fear, Gilbert said.

There are some surveys that suggest 3-4 million people are still fearful for their health and the health of their loved ones, he said. They don’t want to bring the virus back to their homes by taking jobs where the risk of contagion is high.

Unemployment checks and stimulus checks have also played a role in the lack of workers because they have allowed people to afford to stay home and rethink their life and career, Gilbert said.

"People are thinking, people are moving, people are saying, 'Well I don’t want this old job back. I want something better. I want something with better hours, with a better commute.'”

Parents, particularly mothers, have also had trouble finding child care, which in turn, makes it difficult for them to return to work, he said.

The female labor participation rate is at its lowest. It's been decreasing through the pandemic and there have been no signs suggesting it is going to go back up, Gilbert said.

However, quitting a job is not necessarily a bad thing because it can mean that people are moving on to something better, which has contributed to a big rethinking of the U.S. labor market or at least a big chunk of it, he said. But it will take time.

“This is a transition. This doesn’t happen in a month. This doesn’t happen in two months," Gilbert said. "This might take six months. This might take a year for people to make these decisions, move their families. Maybe having to do some retraining, some education to find something better."

Segment Producer Rebecca Perry. Watch New Day Northwest 11 AM weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.com. Contact New Day.    

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