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Quit your job! It proves the economy's getting better

Don't like your job? Quit.

At this stage in the recovery —f ive years after the U.S. officially emerged from recession, labor economists would like to see the “quits rate” rise. It’s a measure of the percentage of people voluntarily leaving their employment — rather than being laid off or having a contract end. Workers might leave a job if they’ve been recruited for another one, or even to look for another job without having one already lined up. Or, they might quit to go back to school, or retire, or take a break from work altogether.

“When the economy is strong, people are more likely to be able to quit the job they’re in,” says labor economist Heidi Shierholz at the Economic Policy Institute, “to take another job that has better opportunities for wage growth and advancement, perhaps it better matches their skills and interests.”

Since plummeting at the start of the Great Recession, the quits rate has been gradually rising. But (at 1.8 percent in April 2014, the most recent month for Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting), the quits rate is still nearly 20 percent below its pre-recession level, says Shierholz, and nowhere near what would be expected in a robust economy with plenty of job opportunities.

And Dan Finnigan at Jobvite thinks that for a long time to come, most American workers are going to be hesitant to take the risk of quitting. “The last recession actually frightened the workforce,” says Finnigan. “And most companies now have a difficult time convincing prospective employees that they’re going to be able to stick with them for a long career.” 

Executive coach Jean Erickson Walker in Portland, Oregon, leads career-building sessions for middle-aged managers and she urges people to consider leaving a current job if it’s not satisfying, or not providing opportunities for advancement. She says many workers have felt stuck for years in bad jobs, too fearful of unemployment and financial hardship to move on. 

“There's a restlessness that people have identified in their lives,” says Erickson Walker. “It's —‘I want to do something new, I want relief.’ This not the time yet, but I think it will be in the months to come, when you should feel comfortable leaving to look for something else.”

Indeed, quitting a decent job in this economy — without something as good or better already lined up — might sounds crazy in this economy.

But it’s exactly what Jean MacDonald, 53, did last year. She left a very successful software firm, which she had helped grow over a decade, to found App Camp for Girls in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. And raised $100,000 through crowdfunding to get the nonprofit off the ground.

The impetus to start a free summer program to teach teenage girls how to code came at a developers conference she attended in her previous job.

“I looked around the room, and I didn’t see any other women,” says MacDonald. “At that moment it hit me: ‘This just does not make sense.’” 

App Camp for Girls lasts one week and enrolls up to a dozen girls per session. (See the girls pitching their Apps at the end of last summer's session in Portland here.)

Now in its second season, it's expanded to Seattle, and MacDonald is recruiting volunteers to launch the program to other cities around the country.

For MacDonald, it’s a 60-hour-per-week job, and unpaid  at least so far.

“I really had a burning desire to do this,” she says. “Maybe I’m a masochist but I thought: 'Wow, I get to try all these things that I don’t know how to do.'”

MacDonald says if she can’t make. App Camp for Girls a paying gig eventually, she’ll go back to high tech. She's confident about that, too  she says firms are always looking for experienced, talented workers.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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