US restaurants workers are quitting in record numbers

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Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake
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Restaurant workers have had it.

Nearly 7% of workers in the US food service and lodging industry quit their job in August, outpacing the 2.9% rate for the rest of the economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported yesterday (Oct. 12). That marks the highest rate on record since the BLS began tracking the quit numbers December 2000. The number of workers leaving the restaurant industry totaled 892,000, up from 735,000 a month ago.

The findings suggest these workers are leaving because they are finding better jobs, as the high quit rate can be read as a measure of workers’ confidence in their ability to land jobs elsewhere.

The low pay and poor working conditions of the restaurant industry

The restaurant industry has long had high turnover rates, which became more acute during the pandemic. Workers are quitting because of low pay, a desire for a new career, a lack of benefits, long hours, and potential exposure to covid-19, according to a recent survey from Joblist, an employment site.

Throughout the summer, Republican governors and business owners argued the cutoff of emergency unemployment benefits will bring back a flood of workers. But that does not appear to be the case. Hoping to attract employees back, employers have been offering bonuses and upping wages, with hourly average wages for leisure and hospitality workers now up to $18.95.

The continued labor challenges could mean a permanently lower number of workers available to restaurants. Employment in the industry is still down 8% compared to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, restaurant owners are turning to automation and other services that don’t require waiters, servers, or dishwashers to cope with fewer workers.