Drained from the Pandemic, Retail Workers Are Quitting at Record Rates for Higher Paying Work

Patrick Hoesly via Flickr

Before the pandemic, many people who worked retail weren’t looking for different jobs. Many of them may have been going to school to eventually change careers, but if you’re a people-person, working retail can actually be an enjoyable job. You get to interact with a lot of different people, and instead of sitting at a desk all day, you can walk around and be more active.

The pandemic changed things. Many people lost their jobs during the pandemic, and even though many retail locations were deemed “essential,” not every retailer survived. Besides that, employees who did have jobs found themselves working in a unique and unprecedented situation. While friends in office jobs may have found themselves working from home, retail workers went to work wearing a face mask and reminding customers to practice social distancing. Besides that, many retail workers had children at home doing school via Zoom. How were they supposed to pay for the unexpected expense of childcare on a minimum wage salary?

Fast forward to a year after the pandemic first caused lockdowns. According to the Washington Post, in April 2021, 649,000 retail workers gave notice that they were quitting. That’s the highest number of people to walk away from retail jobs in one month in the past 20 years, which is when the Labor Department started keeping track. Most likely, it has been even longer since that many people walked away from a retail job in just one month.

Meanwhile, retail stores across the nation had openings for approximately 1 million new employees in April. That’s more than double the number of openings that same time last year.

The Washington Post interviewed multiple former retail workers about why they are changing jobs now. Almost everyone mentioned the pandemic as a catalyst to their new job search. They’d had enough of angry customers, pay cuts and long hours. For example, Christina Noles shared that she enjoyed her retail job. She said, “I love talking to people and helping them.” Yet, that wasn’t going to pay the bills. Now, she works from home for a law firm.

Then there’s Jesse Rumpca who left his retail job to become a firefighter. He explained, “I kept working because I had to pay bills, but it was never going to be a long-term job.”

Does it surprise you that hundreds of thousands of retail workers are switching industries? What do you think retail stores could do to keep employees from quitting?