The Quits Rate: Another Economic Indicator Lots of people are talking about the unemployment rate, but what about the "quits rate"? That's the rate at which people are quitting their jobs. And as the economy tanks, fewer people are quitting. Economist John Wohlford explains what this means for the work force. And two people who've made — and survived — huge career changes weigh in.
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The Quits Rate: Another Economic Indicator

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The Quits Rate: Another Economic Indicator

The Quits Rate: Another Economic Indicator

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When we in the media report on the economy, there's one statistic we often cite.

Unidentified Man #1: Catapulting the nation's unemployment rate.

Unidentified Woman #1: Another sign of the economy's decline, the unemployment rate has risen again.

Unidentified Man #2: Let's look at the unemployment rate going back. It is the highest, as Aaron(ph) said, since May 1992 with that 7.6 percent there.

LYDEN: Well, there's another more obscure stat, which economists look at. It's called the quits rate, as in…

(Soundbite of song, "Take This Job and Shove It")

Mr. JOHNNY PAYCHECK (Singer): (Singing) Take this job and shove it. I ain't working here no more.

LYDEN: John Wohlford explains it a little differently than Johnny Paycheck.

Mr. JOHN WOHLFORD (Economist, United States Bureau of Labor Statistics): The quits rate represents the percentage of the labor force that decides to sever their employment relationship with their employer every month.

LYDEN: Wohlford is an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. He's responsible for a survey that tracks many things, among them the quits rate.

Mr. WOHLFORD: We don't collect the reason that people quit, and I'm sure there are many. But you can tend to use the quits rate as a barometer of people's confidence in their ability to change jobs. People are more likely to quit if they think that they can get themselves a better situation. They're less likely to quit if they feel like they're not going to be able to get a better job.

LYDEN: With layoffs and hiring freezes around the country, folks lucky enough to have a job are more willing to stick it out, bite their lip and say, sure thing, boss. I'll get that to you right away.

And Wohlford's survey data proves the point.

Mr. WOHLFORD: The quits rate, at present, is as low as it's been in the eight years that we've been doing the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.

LYDEN: The quits rate has fallen to 1.5 percent. So think of it this way: When the economy was humming along back in September of 2005, 2.8 million Americans quit their jobs in a single month. Well, this past December, only 2 million workers said…

(Soundbite of song, "Take This Job and Shove It")

Mr. PAYCHECK: (Singing) Take this job and shove it.

LYDEN: So this is a problem because a great deal of our economy depends on people changing jobs, moving onward, upward, over. With fewer quitters, the labor market gets less fluid.

So here's a question: Is it possible that the solution to our rising unemployment rate would be mass quitting?

Mr. WOHLFORD: I wouldn't want to comment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Actually, economist John Wohlford says it's more complicated than that.

Mr. WOHLFORD: If more people were quitting, then, in theory, there may be more jobs available for other people. But people wouldn't be quitting unless there were more jobs for them to go after. So it's…

LYDEN: It's a chicken and egg situation, he says. Wohlford will update the quits rate on his Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey on March 10th.

(Soundbite of song, "Take This Job and Shove It")

Mr. PAYCHECK: (Singing) You better not try to stand in my way, as I'm walking out the door. Take this job and shove it. I ain't working here no more.

LYDEN: We're going to spend some time now with people who did shove it, and reinvented themselves in uncertain economic times.

We'll start in Dallas, Texas, at the Lodge, a self-proclaimed gentlemen's club.

Mike Precker is a manager there, but he does have another title.

Mr. MIKE PRECKER (Manager, The Lodge): My business card says writer in residence, which I'm kind of proud of, but I do publicity for the club and handle communications, and write advertising and whatever comes up.

LYDEN: Three years ago, your life was pretty different. What were you doing then?

Mr. PRECKER: I spent 25 years at "The Dallas Morning News." I was a foreign correspondent, I was an editor, I was a feature writer. And at lunch every day, we were always talking about what's our plan B because the clouds were gathering over newspapers, and we were all thinking that we're not going to make it to retirement in the newspaper business.

LYDEN: That's quite a plan B. How did you make the leap to a strip club?

Mr. PRECKER: It was a happy accident. I had known the owner here, Dawn Rizos, for a few - I'd written about her maybe four times in 10 years, never spent a nickel here, honest to goodness. But I happened to see her at a charity dinner, and I was making a joke and said, it's getting kind of gloomy in newspapers. Can you train me to be a bartender? She said, I'd hire you in a minute. Come on board.

And at some point, it seemed more ridiculous to try to hang on at the newspaper, and less ridiculous to take this big leap into something, you know, new and strange. And so I did.

LYDEN: You were a serious journalist. A decade ago, as a feature reporter, you wrote this powerful story about a rape victim speaking out about her ordeal. You wrote this about her: Looming over it all was the fierce will of a woman who considers herself a warrior, though hardly in the Xena mold: 5-foot-2, slender, more focused on the power of her mind than her biceps.

That's strong writing about an empowered woman. And now, you help run a strip club. How do you reconcile that?

Mr. PRECKER: Well, we don't like the S-word. We prefer gentlemen's club, but I won't quibble with you. You could look at this different ways. And I certainly respect every opinion on the subject. I've, you know, had my own wrestling matches with it. But this is a place where empowered women and single moms and students make a good living by their wits and by their talents. And as a Libertarian…

LYDEN: And by their bodies.

Mr. PRECKER: Exactly. You know, one of the things that our boss says to the people who work here - she says, you're like athletes. You have X amount of years where your body will make you a living. You need to maximize it, and you need to go to school, and be ready for the day when you can't run the ball down the field anymore.

LYDEN: Was there a moment in this transition where you thought, wow, I'm in a completely different universe?

Mr. PRECKER: From the first moment, absolutely. I mean, I miss newspapers. I miss the newsroom. I have a great nostalgia for, you know, sort of the good old days of a decade ago. Things are changing very fast, and I really root for the media, but it's honestly a relief in the meantime that I'm not dependent on it turning out right and then making the right decisions.

LYDEN: Mike Precker, you've been through a radical career transition. I think anyone would accept that, whatever they may think about the choice you've made.

We've learned this week that almost 5 million Americans are on the unemployment rolls. Do you have any advice for people thinking about starting over in new careers?

Mr. PRECKER: You'd better be flexible. Work hard and be lucky, and don't turn your back on anything that comes your way.

LYDEN: Mike Precker used to report for "The Dallas Morning News." Now, he's a manager at the Lodge in Dallas, Texas.

Thanks very much, Mike Precker.

Mr. PRECKER: Thank you.

LYDEN: Now to Oregon. Daniella Crowder took a pretty dramatic career detour of her own. She used to spend most of her time doing - what, Daniella?

Ms. DANIELLA CROWDER (Owner, Bike Newport): I was a social worker for Developmental Disabilities Services.

LYDEN: Well, Daniella Crowder no longer has that job. In fact, she's gone on to something completely different.

What do you do now, Daniella?

Ms. CROWDER: I own a bike shop, Bike Newport in Newport, Oregon.

LYDEN: Why'd you make the change?

Ms. CROWDER: Well, I kind of saw the writing on the wall. The county job I'd had for 13 years was going to be going private, and they were going to be downsizing. And my husband and I took a great leap of faith, sold everything we owned and bought an existing bike shop on the Oregon coast, and are in a whole different ballgame.

LYDEN: So you went from the role of being a social worker to being a saleswoman.


(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Has that been a big adjustment?

Ms. CROWDER: It has. I enjoy it greatly, though. Before, I was responsible for over 100 people with developmental disabilities. It was not a 40-hour-a-week job. It was all the time - calls. I loved helping those people and changing their lives, but I thought, my gosh, if I put even half as much energy into my own business, I can't even imagine how great it could be.

LYDEN: Does it have the same meaning for you as it did when you were solving people's problems?

Ms. CROWDER: It does in a different way. I also had a child during that time, and so my focus really shifted quite a bit. You know, for the 13 years I was at the job, I did not have children, and I always felt I was giving back to the world. And now, I do that, but just in a different way.

LYDEN: Daniella Crowder owns Newport Bikes in Newport, Oregon, on the coast. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. CROWDER: Thank you.

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