Jobs creation data due later Friday could have a major effect on the Federal Reserve's plans for tightening monetary policy
Jobs creation data due later Friday could have a major effect on the Federal Reserve's plans for tightening monetary policy

The United States has found itself in the midst of what economists are calling "The Great Resignation," as millions have quit their jobs in recent months. High attrition at a time when the economy still has not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled fears that the labor shortage will worsen.

The picture is complicated by the differences between states that show the effects of the Great Resignation are not being felt equally across the country. A recent study by Wallethub highlighted this stark gap by creating a ranked list of states based on which ones were seeing the highest number of resignations.

Sitting at the top of the list is Alaska which has a resignation rate of 5.20%, followed by Wyoming, Georgia, Kentucky and Montana rounding out the top five. On the other end of the spectrum, it was coastal states that saw the lowest resignation rates with New York, Washington and Pennsylvania each seeing only 2.0% of their workforce resigning.

Why this gap exists has to do with factors that predated the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of those with the highest number of resignations are among the most sparsely populated in the state or they possess some of the lowest-paid minimum wage jobs. According to experts, much of the Great Resignation has been concentrated among low-wage workers in sectors like the leisure and hospitality industry, which conversely has also produced the most jobs.

This confluence of factors can be seen playing out in several of the states. Georgia, for example, has no minimum wage law and the state labor department lists the minimum to be $5.15. Alaska, which has the highest attrition rate, has a minimum wage that is twice as high as Georgia's but has also seen a high rate of turnover in its labor force in recent years.

Overall unemployment remains low, but the job data has not been encouraging. The recent non-farm payroll report from the Labor Department found that only 199,000 jobs were added in December while 4.5 million Americans were found to have quit their jobs in November last year.

Erin Hendrickson, a law professor at William & Mary Law School in Virginia, said some workers in low-wage sectors have quit because of a variety of personal reasons. This can be a concern about exposure to COVID-19 or a need to attend to their families, something she noted was a particular concern for women.

"Low-wage jobs have seen some of the highest rates of attrition, suggesting that these employees no longer view their compensation to be worth their time and effort," said Hendrickson.

"On top of this, the pandemic has caused many of us to reflect on our lives and how we would like to spend whatever time we have left. I imagine that some workers have decided to retire early, that some hope to find a way to permanently work from home, and that others hope to change careers altogether."

The economy could face long-term consequences if the labor shortage isn't corrected, according to Gad Levanon, head of The Conference Board's Labor Market Institute.

"Without policymakers, business leaders and thought leaders more clearly recognizing the current dangers that labor shortages pose, the U.S. risks not being able to fully recover economically from the pandemic for the next couple of years," Levanon said in an opinion piece for CNN.