| Great resignation wave |
Whitney Green’s recent life has been somewhat unusual. Every morning, she is awakened by the sounds of the streets of Rome: scooter engines echoing on the cobblestones, customers chatting briskly as they buy their refreshing espresso in the store. In the afternoon, Green would go to Italian lessons. In her spare time, she eats pistachio ice cream and handmade pasta, watching tourists gather around Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain. These days, she’s busy teaching herself a keyboard instrument and building a website for her dream telehealth career. Green used to be a community psychotherapist in Los Angeles dealing with the psychological problems of marginalized youth. Life in America is far away from her. She quit her job last June and moved to Italy with her girlfriend.
Green is one of the millions of Americans who will leave traditional jobs in 2021 determined not to clock in. It was the largest wave of resignations in the U.S. since 2019, and the numbers are still rising. In June last year, 3.9 million people quit their jobs; in July, 3.9 million more; in August, 4.3 million people didn’t want to work. This is especially pronounced among younger workers: In September, nearly a quarter of young Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 were classified as a “non-labor resource.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are almost 14 million of those people who are neither employed nor looking for work. Some people decide to stop and rest out of physical and mental exhaustion; others feel that the pressure of the epidemic is gradually waning, and it is time to give up their main business and resume their side jobs; for many employees in the service industry, poor treatment and low wages have become impossible. Bear. Green falls into the last category, a 31-year-old with a master’s degree who decided to take a break from dead wages, take a vacation and live off her savings before becoming a freelancer. Meanwhile, there are still about 10.4 million job openings in the United States. Pandemic burnout and poor working conditions have taken a toll on young workers, and this wave, known as the “big resignation,” provides them with a respite, allowing them to heal their wounds through dramatic life changes .
”This is a revolution, not just a naked speech,” said Ifima Ezmako, a 23-year-old woman living in Washington, D.C. She used to be a hotel employee and a bartender. When she took her last service job last March, she finally couldn’t stand the grumpy customers and ridiculously low pay. It was her fifth year in the service industry, and she couldn’t keep up. During the epidemic, customers’ words and deeds became worse, such as asking waiters to take off their masks to “see how they look to decide how much to tip.” Ezmako and his colleagues finally opened their eyes to the reality that living off tips entailed enormous humiliation. In her opinion, that little salary is not worth it at all. So she quit her job and, with the support of her family, started studying for a degree in sociology. Today, she is a volunteer for Fair Wages, an activist group that advocates for service industry workers.
The median age in the leisure and hospitality industry is 31.9, which is lower than in any other industry. Salu Zayaraman, head of Fair Wages, revealed that about half of service-sector workers surveyed said they planned to quit their jobs in 2022. She carefully separates the “Great Resignation” movement from the way white-collar workers leave their jobs and enjoy life. “White-collar workers are mostly leaving quietly, but there is a revolution brewing in the service industry,” she said. “They’re crying out: ‘We love this industry, but we’re not coming back unless there’s a permanent raise!'”
| Change the status quo |
The epidemic has exposed many deep-seated problems, such as the inability to receive unemployment benefits and rising income inequality. In addition, enterprises are in short supply and the market is in urgent need of talents, which gives job seekers more initiative. Even current employees who have to work to survive suddenly understand that they must set a baseline for their treatment. Ezmako’s and Green’s experiences may be different, but they’re both part of some kind of social shift. In this transition, younger employees are prioritizing self-worth.
And, now these young people have the power to change their career status. Harvard economist Lawrence Katz said that pre-pandemic high-wage workers — like Greene — spent less, saved more during the lockdown, and were financially better off, so quitting their jobs didn’t mean they’d run out of food. In addition, although there are a large number of job vacancies in the market, the labor force is not in a hurry to find employment, but has more confidence to withdraw from the workplace. Katz specifically pointed out that this is not simply a matter of young workers leaving the labor market, but more importantly, they are “trying new things, seizing new opportunities, and putting aside old labor negotiations.”
There are currently 10.4 million job openings in the U.S. job market, and “Talent Needed” signs are everywhere.
The job market is the way it is now because of the prevalence of telecommuting. It makes work-life balance possible, especially for millennials (born 1981-1996). Almost half of these people grew up in dual-earner families, and they were so familiar with them that they naturally took work for granted, but now a new way of balancing life and work has suddenly emerged. A 2020 Gallup poll found that 74% of people in this age group do not want to go back to the office, the highest percentage of any age group. Millennial women are more likely to be unemployed at home given the convenience of childcare. In September alone, more than 309,000 women left the workforce. Before the pandemic, childcare services were already in a hurry, but now, daycare centers are closed, there is a severe shortage of childcare workers, and women have to stay at home indefinitely.
Regardless of the motivation for the naked resignation, young white-collar and blue-collar workers are finding that they are happier and more independent after leaving their jobs.
Others argue that telecommuting won’t solve the problem, either. Emma Moon, who resigned as a marketing agency last June, wanted to break the shackles of the corporate system. “I feel like I could make more money and progress faster if I did it alone, instead of staring at those annual, quarterly, monthly reports,” she said. Moon, 22, now runs her own consulting business. She didn’t go to college, but now earns three times as much. She has the flexibility to travel and work freely, even if it looks like a 24/7 job rather than a 9-to-5.
People like Moon don’t quite fit our understanding of employment. She is an independent worker, not a job seeker waiting for an offer. Moreover, the number of clients in her hands is still increasing, and there is no doubt that she will not lose her job or work for others. “It gave me more time to think, deal with problems, and the pressure of the management team allowed me to make more informed decisions,” Moon said. In addition, the anxiety about getting paid by looking at people’s faces is long gone. “I’ve seen people get fired all of a sudden, and I’ve been fired myself before, and it even gave me psychological problems.” She also cited some of the uncertainties of startups, which are most favored by young people.
Indeed, the initial drive of a startup can be easily sapped away. Corey Gabrielson, a 30-year-old engineer, is a veteran of an agricultural technology startup in Seattle. In April last year, he resigned. The job requires frequent business trips, and he once traveled for 14 days to inspect farm robots. After two years of work, he was ready to take a break. He said he “did nothing” in the months after his resignation and just wanted to slowly recover from his mental and physical exhaustion.
Gabrielson now trades options on a daily basis, runs an automated Twitter account that tracks ethereum prices, and dabbles in blockchain and cryptocurrency investments. He can’t be said to be happier because he misses the social interactions in the office, but at least he’s feeling more stable on a daily basis. He wants to be an independent individual who can do whatever he wants. Gabrielson doesn’t have a full-time job, but he doesn’t have to worry about money. He has some savings, and his investments are going well, and it’s a boom time for cryptocurrencies. “I don’t have any pressure at work, my goal is not to go back and work for others,” he said.
| The tide is coming |
Economists predict that the wave of “big resignations” has just started, and it is not difficult for the younger generation to find new ways to make money. A former colleague of Gabrielson resigned the same day as he and moved to Amsterdam. Moon and Green say many of their friends are inquiring about getting out of their 9-to-5 life. Unless there is a major change in the restaurant industry, Zayaraman warns, there will be more young practitioners who are giving up their meager incomes and choosing to maintain their health. If the government does not work hard on childcare services, young mothers will have worries and will naturally put taking care of their children first. Whatever the motivation for the naked resignation, young blue-collar and white-collar workers are finding that they are happier and more independent after leaving their jobs. For Green, the upheaval in life started her dream journey. With every bite of her ice cream, her dream seemed to be one step closer to her.