Skip to contents
Economy

What’s Working: People are quitting their jobs in record numbers. Here’s what happened in Colorado.

The JOLTS data will soon go local so we take a look at what early data shows about the state’s workforce. Plus: Jobless updates, overpayment appeals and changing wages.

A sandwich board outside of Big Daddy Bagels in Lafayette, Colorado, on Oct. 12, 2021, warns of staff shortages inside the store and at the same time asks people to fill out job applications. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

The latest job report caught many, many, many people’s attention because of this sentence: “The quits rate increased to a series high of 2.9%.”

That’s from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics summary of its August Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, aka JOLTS. 

In other words, it was the highest rate since JOLTS began in December 2000. That’s roughly 4.3 million people who quit their jobs in August. Before the pandemic, national quit rates peaked around 2.4% in 2019 and fell to 1.6% in April 2020.

Some economists explained this could be due to “growing concerns about working in the continuing pandemic,” or workers reevaluating their jobs because they have more options. 

And it’s aggravating small business employers who are still short of staff, said Tony Gagliardi, Colorado state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “My members share with me that they often have no applications for job postings.”

The new JOLTS data — which also shared that the number of job openings, hires and layoffs were down in August — could mean workers are feeling more confident about employment, especially if they already have a job, said Chris Brown, with  Common Sense Institute, an economic think tank in Greenwood Village. 

“Higher rate of quits in itself doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem, as workers may be seeking other jobs,” Brown said, adding that August is typically a high quit rate month. “It seems like while there are normal seasonal factors driving a higher number of quits in August, the current pandemic-related labor force factors have pushed even more people to quit this August.”

The JOLTS folks don’t want to guess what’s happening here. Skyla Skopovi, a BLS’ JOLTS office economist, said the information is based on a survey and respondents aren’t obliged to share additional commentary.

“At times we may learn of factors affecting change in one or even a handful of employers’ data,” Skopovi said in an email. “However, such insight would be only conjecture when applied to entire industries, let alone to the national estimates.” 

UPDATE on Oct. 21, 2021: Confused about vaccination mandates? For those who’ve asked about people quitting their due to employer vaccine mandates, the data shared is from August 2021, or before many mandates were announced or implemented.

And in Colorado…

The data is there for Colorado but it hasn’t been separated out yet. But the BLS plans to start releasing state data regularly for the first time later this month, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

He believes Colorado won’t look too different.

“It’s probably reasonable to assume that state-level quit rates have experienced a similar trajectory since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.

We do know how Colorado compares to the nation as of March 2021, thanks to experimental JOLTS data shared by the BLS this year. The agency compiled a chart showing JOLTS data by state from December 2000 to March 2021. 

Back in March, when the U.S. quit rate was at 2.4%, Colorado’s was 2.7%. That’s roughly 71,000 Coloradans who quit their jobs, according to the seasonally adjusted JOLTS data. 

UPDATE, as of Oct. 17, 3:30 p.m.: To make the recent data a little easier to read in the above chart, I’ve pulled out the monthly data just for Jan. 2019 to Mar. 2021.

Like everyone else, Colorado took a hit in April 2020 under COVID-19 business restrictions with recovery continuing all year. The first three months of 2021 aren’t back to pre-pandemic normals, but data shows that fewer Coloradans are quitting their jobs on average compared to 2019. However, layoffs are still much higher than 2019, as are job openings. 

This jibes with the mantra of the state labor department that workers still have lots of job options, especially if they already have a job. Job openings are still plentiful in Colorado. The state’s job board lists 97,645 job openings this week, though it’s down from 126,773 in late August.

But whether the unemployed can get a company’s attention is the continued issue, at least anecdotally. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Shannon C., who shared her job story with What’s Working, said she keeps a spreadsheet of how many jobs she’s applied for — 880 since July 2020. She feels like she just can’t pass the applicant-tracking screening on the first-round interview. She has a job, two actually. But not ones that she’s trained for.

“I graduated from a coding boot camp back in August 2020,” she wrote. “Now, I’m stuck with two jobs (that are not coding)… It is tough to stay above the waterline. I do see all of those job openings for people like me, but it seems like (companies) preferred someone more senior with less training. Right now, I am trying to shift away from applying for jobs to network with recruiters.”  

If workers are quitting and not applying for new jobs, that increases the strain on employers, especially those offering low wages and few benefits. Industries hardest hit by workers who quit were accommodation and food services, which had 157,000 people quit in August, followed by wholesale trade, at 26,000, and then state and local government education, at 25,000, according to JOLT data.

We’ll know more when state data is released later this month. But Colorado, Brown said, “is experiencing the same lingering aftershocks in the labor market as the rest of the country, following the massive earthquake to the economy last April.”

Why workers are quitting: According to a CNBC and Catalyst survey of 903 people, half of the workers plan to change their careers because of the pandemic and are seeking more flexible hours or location. Of those, 32% are looking for another job in the same industry while one in five plan to quit and start a business. More than half of employed parents want to leave their jobs because they don’t feel their company or their manager cared about their concerns in the pandemic.>> RESULTS


Have you quit your job recently or thinking about it?
Share your story:

Share your labor story: cosun.co/job-stories

Wage updates

Many employers I’ve interviewed who’ve struggled all summer to hire staff have raised pay, even if it was just a dollar above minimum wage. Industry organizations also shared that wages are on the rise. 

The Colorado Restaurant Association’s summer survey found 90% of restaurants had changed their business practices to attract workers, while one in four added bonuses. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Approximately 31% of restaurant members increased wages by 21% to 30% while more than 10% had increased wages by 31% to 40%. Nearly a quarter also added new benefits, including 401(k) plans, health and wellness allowances and educational assistance. As a result, 95% of the restaurants said they increased menu prices to cover the additional costs.

NFIB, which surveyed its members in August, said 42% of the small employers had raised wages, while nearly one third plan to do so in the next three months. 

Wages appear to be rising, but that’s tough for a small company trying to make ends meet, Gagliardi said. 

“Oftentimes increasing prices is not an option depending upon competition,” he said.

Attention Denver hospitality businesses: The city of Denver is offering cash grants of up to $10,000 each to local restaurants and hotels to help hire and retain staff. The Denver Back to Work Program is being administered by the Colorado Restaurant Foundation. >> APPLY

→ It’s Striketober: Nationwide, nearly 100,000 workers authorized strikes in an effort to demand better pay and work conditions. Here in Colorado, that includes workers at John Deere and janitors at Denver International Airport. Over at Kaiser Permanente, where California and Oregon union members authorized a strike this week, Colorado Kaiser health care workers held a rally demanding the health care provider “put patients over profits.” 

Catchy headline: $21 is the new $15 in minimum wages at more companies comes from CBSNews in rounding up employers who recently upped their starting pay. The $21 is now the minimum USAA (which has an outpost in Colorado Springs). And Bank of America, which now pays at least $20 an hour, is aiming for $25 an hour minimum — not average — by 2025.  

Minimum wage and the Nobel Prize: David Card, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, was among a trio of economists just awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for economics. He’s the guy who, along with the late Alan Krueger, studied whether an increase in the minimum wage led to job losses. It did not, they concluded. >> NY Times

→ ICYMI: Colorado’s own minimum wage goes up 24 cents on Jan. 1. It will jump to $12.56, from the current $12.32 an hour.

Jobless economy check

It’s been six weeks since federal unemployment benefits ended in Colorado and there are still 25,787 people on state unemployment.

If you add in folks who were able to backdate or finally get their pandemic claims paid, that adds another 617 people for the week ended Oct. 2. 

Here’s the latest chart, which also shows new unemployment claims went up 20.1% for the week ending Oct. 9. 

Still muddy for the “overpaid” unemployed 

It’s also been about six weeks since more than 24,000 Coloradans who collected an unemployment check this year learned they were paid too much

Most just hadn’t submitted the proper documents to the right place. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment demanded they pay the money back or appeal.

But so far, only 1,388 of those folks with PUA document issues have appealed, according to CDLE. And of those, 40% to 45% had been reviewed by a special team that found the right documents and reversed the overpayment. Another 66 were resolved in favor of the user ahead of the appeals hearing, according to a department spokesperson.

“That figure may grow slightly as some appeals submitted by mail or fax may not have been processed yet, but it appears that most of the claimants who were issued overpayments chose not to appeal, likely due to fraud,” the spokesperson said in an email.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

My advice: Appeal people! The Department of Labor will not even look at whether you sent the right documents to the wrong place unless you appeal. 

As for someone who did appeal, Chrstine Hoyt told me the result was “clear as mud,”.

Hoyt had read about another woman’s plight of receiving a shocking $18,779 bill and realized she, too, had been denied $20,000 in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which was the popular federal subsidy for unemployed gig workers and the self-employed. 

She audited her previously submitted documents and got all her docs in a row and appealed. 

Much legalese (her words) later, an appeal date by phone was set, then she was given the option to cancel and then her appeal date was canceled. 

“I was contemplating it and attempted to call UI Mission Impossible,” she said. 

But perhaps, maybe, could it be, her overpayment nightmare was over?

She’s still not sure.

Her cynical advice to anyone who dares trod into the land of unemployment benefits: Make sure you have an HR department helping you out, purchase a legal dictionary and “assess your need to sleep regularly and the ability to handle stress,” she said. “This is not a good option for anxiety ridden workers.”

CDLE’s appeals page

→ Fraud update: As of Sept. 30, CDLE reports that the state’s unemployment office paid out $28.9 million in confirmed fraudulent payments due to thieves filing false claims. Another $628.6 million in attempts was prevented. “A number of investigations are ongoing, but we do not have anything to share at this time regarding arrests or prosecutions,” a CDLE department spokesperson said.

Getting back to work

Training and certificates available. The Pikes Peak Workforce Center is putting $1.8 million in federal relief towards training people who want to get a credential or certificate in a number of careers, from dental assistant or Android application engineer to tractor operator, phlebotomist and more. Funded by the Ready to Rise Colorado Recovery Plan, the center expects to train up to 400 residents in El Paso and Counties impacted by COVID-19. Pro tip: Not in El Paso or Teller? Check with your local workforce center about their Ready to Rise funding. >> APPLY 

Who’s hiring:

  • King Soopers/City Market needs 1,900 seasonal workers for full-time and part-time positions. Most start near minimum wage to about $20 an hour, depending on location (pay ranges are listed here for store 119 in Colorado Springs). Today (Oct. 16), all locations statewide are holding in-person interviews from noon to 3 p.m. >> APPLY
  • Monarch Casino has 147 openings. The company has tried multiple in-person and online job fairs but it’s still short on staff. A spokesperson shared that most of the jobs are what you’d think are needed at a hotel with restaurants and a casino. Pay starts near minimum wage and goes up to $23.50 an hour for housekeepers and other hotel positions. >> APPLY

→ Hey employers: Have an interesting job and you have no idea no one’s applying? Share it with What’s Working at tamara@coloradosun.com.


Whew. Why is there always so much to say about working in Colorado? Thanks to all who contribute and if you’ve got your own job story as an employer, employee, or someone seeking a job, please share it so Colorado can better understand the different perspectives our diverse state has. Hang in there everyone. ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

MORE: Read stories on Colorado jobs and unemployment


We believe vital information needs to be seen by the people impacted, whether it’s a public health crisis, investigative reporting or keeping lawmakers accountable. This reporting depends on support from readers like you.