Skip navigation

USM Professor Says U.S. Facing “Watershed Moment” on Economic Front

Tue, 01/11/2022 - 09:39am | By: Van Arnold

U.S. workers quit their jobs at a record pace in November, and University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Professor Dr. Chad Miller underscores several economic factors that have contributed to the disturbing trend.

The number of workers quitting jobs vaulted to 4.5 million from 4.2 million, above the prior record of 4.4 million reached in September, the Labor Department reported. That means 3 percent of workers voluntarily left their positions, matching September's record high.

“The numbers do not surprise me. I think we are facing a watershed moment with perceptions of work/life balance in the United States,” said Miller, professor of economic development at USM. “Demographics, technology, public policy – or the lack thereof, and the COVID mentality reset are driving the change.”

Employers posted 10.6 million job openings, down from a near-record 11 million the previous month and just below July’s all-time high, Labor said in its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Openings have topped 10 million for six straight months. The decline was fueled by a drop of 261,000 openings in restaurants and hotels.

Still, since there were 6.9 million unemployed Americans in November, that means there were 1.5 available jobs for each unemployed person, the most on record dating back two decades. U.S. employers added just 199,000 jobs in December - far below predictions - as the economy struggles with inflation and supply shortages.

Miller foresees a slight swing in the pendulum as more people start returning to the workforce.

“Going forward, I see more people going back to work as wages rise, government assistance lessens, and employers make work-quality improvements,” said Miller. “However, labor markets will still be tight, particularly in some sectors.”

He notes that demographics remains a major issue as Baby Boomers retire, the birth rate remains low, and immigration is limited.

“Automation can relieve some of the pressure, but so much of our economic society is based on a growing population, which is coming to an end,” said Miller.

As far as state/regional forecasts go, Miller points out that demographics and Mississippi remain a particular concern.

“We are losing population. The new United Van Lines Movers study is insightful as it shows more people moving out of the state,” he said. “Mostly because of job prospects for high earners. Population loss creates a downward spiral causation effect on the whole economy, which we need to find a way to reverse. The state has some bright spots, including Hattiesburg, but other parts of the state need some serious attention.”

Much of the economic downturn can be attributed to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has stymied the U.S. – and the world – for nearly two years. Miller says the pandemic’s lingering impact comes as no surprise.

“The 1918 flu pandemic last two years, so I am not surprised COVID is continuing to have an impact,” he said. “The pandemic hit during a time of social and political unrest and a changing global economy, so there was a compounded social and economic impact.”