MISSOULA, Mont. — Montana is facing historic high numbers of workers quitting their jobs.
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry shows an average of 15,000 quits per month in the first three months of 2021. That number increased to 19,000 from September to November.
“It’s important to know that it’s not a completely new phenomenon,” said Pat Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Barkey says it happens in every recession -- people lose their jobs and some drop out of the labor force altogether.
In Montana, there are more job openings, but the statewide unemployment rate hit a historic low.
We asked the Montana Department of Labor and Industry for an interview twice, but they said they would only answer questions through email.
Public information officer Jessica Nelson said the main reason for more quits is competition for workers. Employers are raising wages, and workers are quitting and switching jobs for higher pay.
“What’s possibly a little more unique this time is that when you compare the gap between what the participation rate is today versus pre-pandemic, that gap is widest for the oldest cohort of workers, so there’s clearly an extra push or pull into retirement,” said Barkey.
The Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s “Economy at a Glance” document says there’s a large baby boomer population retiring and not enough young people to replace them. Plus the pandemic worsened existing issues like child care, school schedules and caring for sick loved ones. That decreases the number of hours Montana workers can work.
However, inflation is a new issue.
“Other than inflation, which was not around before the pandemic, labor market shortage and housing affordability, those problems were here before the pandemic, they've just come back unexpectedly fast,” said Barkey.
Barkey says the labor shortage problem caught the public’s attention because it’s affecting our sense of normalcy on top of the pandemic. Restaurants close because they don’t have enough staff, and our packages take double the amount of time to reach the front door.
He says the toll it will take on the economy is largely unknown, but the labor market will have to adjust as Montana's tourist season approaches.