Let me be clear from the start: I do not know the degree to which vaccine mandates have played a role in the massive voluntary exodus from the workforce. I do, however, know that any true journalist would at least entertain the possibility that the two are correlated. Finding such a journalist proved to be a difficult task: ABC, CNN, CBS, the Washington Post, Reuters, CNBC, The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Hill, Business Insider, Fortune, FT, Vox, Market Watch, and even right-wing publishers like the New York Post and Fox Business have all covered the mass resignations without so much as a mention of vaccine mandates. The WaPo, citing a single anecdote, went so far as to suggest that unvaccinated workers are causing others to quit by making them feel unsafe:
Time magazine, to their credit, at least addressed the possible relation and tried to provide a counterpoint, citing employee vaccination numbers in the high 90 percents ahead of mandates, like Washington, where University of Washington hospitals employees are 97 percent vaccinated—sounds great! They just forgot to do a follow-up piece after the mandate went into effect … when Washington lost 3 percent of its sixty-three thousand state employees in a single day. That’s a sizeable percentage when you consider that monthly separations (terminations and quits) are typically 3–4 percent in the US and this drop occurred in one day. Not to mention these separations are added to routine employment frictions.
Now, let’s discuss the awfully interesting correlations between the announcements of vaccine mandates and the “Great Resignation”:
The US has clocked two consecutive all-time highs for the percentage of workers quitting within a single month, 2.9 percent for August and 3.0 percent for September (data released on a two-month delay). This coincided precisely with an onset of highly prominent vaccine mandate announcements within the private and public sectors, one of the earliest being Google on July 28, which inspired a tsunami of corporate signaling throughout the month of August. In a similar fashion, California set the trend for a series of state-level mandates, most of which were announced in August, with enforcement to begin in late September and October. August was indeed the first month in which this topic seeped into mainstream public discourse, the buzz increasing in September as Joe Biden announced the mandate for federal employees.
Right off the bat this seems like a coincidence worth mentioning, yet none of the outlets listed above did. But there’s more. Historically upswings in resignations have correlated with commensurate upswings in hiring (see chart below). As businesses hire more, workers have freedom to shop around. However, we are not seeing that this time around, with total hires increasing by 7.5 percent between March and September 2021 and quits increasing by 24.3 percent during that same period, a threefold margin.1
Now, let’s pivot to look at two states that are handling mandates very differently—Colorado enacted one of the strictest vaccine mandates while Arizona became the first state to enact a private sector ban on vaccine mandates. Colorado subsequently broke its all-time record for highest quit rate ever recorded with 3.4 percent. To quote the Denver Post:
What is unusual about the new record high is that it coincides with a still relatively high 5.9 percent unemployment rate in Colorado in August. Normally, elevated unemployment and people voluntarily jumping ship don’t go hand in hand.
For example, when Colorado’s unemployment rate was at 5.9 percent in January 2003, the quit rate was 2.6 percent and it was 2.7 percent in January 2014, another month with 5.9 percent unemployment.
In September, Colorado shattered this record with an adjusted quit rate of 4.3 percent (raw rate of 4.7 percent)! Meanwhile, Arizona was one of only four states to experience a decline in their raw quit rate moving from July to August, and it did so by the greatest margin. The raw rate continued to decline in September. So, out of fifty states, Arizona is demonstrating some of the strongest data contrary to the Great Resignation trend.
Lastly, let’s shift our focus to what the unvaccinated holdouts are saying. According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 72 percent of workers vow to quit if they are not given the option to test weekly and 37 percent say they will quit even with testing:
Surely some of these vows will prove stronger than others, but we should note this poll was conducted between October 14 and 24. These folks are not included in the resignation data we saw in August and September. Remember, most mandates were not officially in effect during those months, with the largest mandate of all, Biden’s private sector mandate, still to come. If these poll respondents stay true to their word, this could equate to a 5–9 percent exodus from the workforce, on top of what we have already seen. This will only get worse if religious exemptions are removed, as is becoming increasingly mainstream.
Again, this is not proof that vaccine mandates are the primary cause of the Great Resignation, just evidence that they are likely playing a role. This is an important message to the publishers at big corporate media outlets. Conveniently leaving these discussions out of your articles will not persuade readers these topics are unrelated. Instead, it will cause them to question how a “journalist” could publish such negligent reporting. This type of behavior will only foster more distrust in mainstream institutions.
There’s another, more sinister, symptom of this cognitive dissonance—it absolves political leaders of accountability. Given unemployment is a major bipartisan issue, average citizens might oppose mandates if they thought it would impede reaching full employment. Take New York, for example, where they revoked religious exemptions to the vaccine for healthcare workers on November 22, while recently, New York nurses publicly complained about staffing shortages, calling them a “dire nursing shortage.” You would think the governor might adjust her course of action upon hearing this, but in the made-up world where vaccine mandates have zero impact on employment, our leaders can get away with callous policy decisions like this.
1. Calculated with Bureau of Labor Statistics data tools.