Why Young People Are Quitting Jobs—And Not Going Back
Millions of Americans have left traditional jobs this year
Life for Whitney Green looks a little different these days. She wakes up to the sounds of Rome: scooter engines echoing off cobblestones, the lilting chatter of café patrons collecting their morning espresso shots. She goes to Italian classes in the afternoons. She eats bowls of pistachio gelato and handmade pasta, and watches tourists congregate at the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona. She’s teaching herself to play keyboard and building a website for her dream job—her own telehealth practice. It’s a far cry from her past life as a community mental-health therapist for at-risk youth in San Francisco, a job she quit in June to move to Italy with her girlfriend.
Green is one of millions of Americans leaving traditional jobs this year—and choosing not to recommit to clocking in at all. This is the highest mass resignation the U.S. has seen since 2019, pre-pandemic, and the numbers are still rising. In June, 3.9 million quit. In July, it was another 3.9 million. In August, 4.3 million. The numbers are even more notable for young workers: in September, nearly a quarter of workers ages 20 to 34 were not considered part of the U.S. workforce—some 14 million Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who were neither working nor looking for work.
For some, it's burnout. For others, the timing was ripe to refocus on side projects as the stresses of the pandemic started to wane. And for many, especially in a service sector dominated by “zillennials” (those in their late 20s on the border of Gen Z and millennial), poor treatment and low wages became unsustainable. Green represents one slice of that: she’s a 31-year-old with a master’s degree who decided to step back from earning income to take a self-imposed sabbatical and live off savings before working for herself one day. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 10.4 million jobs in the U.S. that remain unfilled, as this exodus—dubbed the Great Resignation—offers young workers time to nurse the wounds of pandemic burnout and untenable working conditions with dramatic life changes.
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