Retail Workers are Quitting at High Rates

With consumers stepping back into stores as states reopen and the COVID-19 pandemic improves in the U.S., a significant portion of retail workers are throwing in the towel.
Shopping mall

In April alone, nearly 650,000 retail workers gave notice they were leaving their roles, marking the biggest mass exit of employees in one month since the Department of Labor began tracking industry data more than 20 years ago, The Washington Post reported. That’s compared to one million job openings reported in the same month. 

The data is worrisome for the retail industry, and a number of mass retailers announced massive hiring campaigns in early spring this year. With sparse talent availability, some retailers and brands, including Levi’s have opted to train their employees to learn other jobs and fill high-skilled positions.

Part of the reason retail workers are leaving their roles if not dropping out of the sector entirely is due to low wages. After experiencing disruption across all aspects of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers have a different attitude about their earnings prospects and value.

“It was a really dismal time, and it made me realize this isn’t worth it,” 23-year-old Aislinn Potts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who left her $11-an-hour job as an aquatic specialist at a national pet chain in April to focus on writing and art, told The Washington Post. “My life isn’t worth a dead-end job.”

Many other workers who spoke with The Post felt similar, focusing on the changes brought on by the pandemic. Other aspects of life, such as childcare and transportation, also being more challenging as a result of the pandemic, which could also be affecting retail workers. The higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in a retail environment may also have driven away workers. 

However, experts say it’s too early to tell if the quick exodus is more telling of a long-term trend about the industry--and if retailers really need to worry about their ability to hire employees in the future. In the short term, the labor pressures are influencing retailers to raise wages and create other incentives, such as cash bonuses, to attract and retain workers.

In the long term, the labor squeeze may have some effect to improve working conditions, such as more stable schedules, safer working conditions and other benefits, such as sick leave and paid time off, according to The Post.