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More People Are Quitting Their Jobs. How Good of a Sign Is That?

Fact: in September, we put out an hour-long Freakonomics Radio podcast called “The Upside of Quitting.”

Fact: in September, more Americans quit their jobs than in any month since Nov., 2008.


Actually, it’s not even a coincidence. The podcast was out on Sept. 30; the resignations (2 million of them) covered the month of September.

That said, more resignations would seem to indicate an improving economy. From Time:

According to a recent survey by job-search site Snagajob, 44% of respondents who quit in the past year did so believing they would find a better opportunity elsewhere, up from 31% the year before.

Why, you might wonder, is Time citing Snagajob rather than a government source? And should we believe those numbers?

Here’s what former Labor Secretary Robert Reich told me in an interview for the quit radio episode:

No, the government doesn’t have good data on this. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects a lot of data as does the Commerce Department on jobs, but it’s very difficult to tell why people quit. That’s a subjective issue. Are you quitting because you hate your job? Are you quitting because you’re forced to leave? Are you quitting because you have a better job possibility? Some people are not completely candid about why they’re quitting to begin with, and it’s just a very murky area. These days when the economy is still bad, struggling to get out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession, most people who leave their jobs are still not leaving because they have great, wonderful opportunities elsewhere. They are leaving for most of the time, most instances, particularly if they’re in the bottom two-thirds of the wage ladder, they’re leaving because they have no choice, their employer is basically kicking them out.

The fact is that unemployment is starting to drop; some commentators aren’t cheered.