When workers and employers go their separate ways,
who usually initiates the split? Data from the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggest that the answer
has a lot to do with the overall state of the economy.
As the chart shows, when workers leave a job, it's
usually because they choose to quit. At least, that's been
the case over most of the 10 years BLS has been collecting
But workers quit less, either by choice or by necessity,
during the past two recessions. And the decline
in quits associated with the most recent recession was
especially dramatic: Quits fell by more than half. This
dropoff was accompanied by an unprecedented spike in
the number of involuntary separations—the first time
since the data series began, in fact, that involuntary separations
Quits tend to increase when jobs are perceived as
readily available and tend to fall when jobs are perceived
as scarce. In the past decade, quits have been a lagging
indicator at the start of a recovery.
In contrast, layoff and discharge levels fluctuate for a
variety of reasons. Some, such as firings for cause, occur
in all economic climates. But others, such as business
closures, cost-cutting layoffs, and downsizing, are more
closely associated with recessions.
These data are from the BLS Job Openings and
Labor Turnover Survey. For more information, write to
Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, 2 Massachusetts
Ave., NE, Suite 4840, Washington, DC 20212; call
(202) 691-5870; or visit the program's website at