- While the labor movement labeled the Great Resignation is historic, it’s not all inclusive.
- Thousands of people — many of whom are people of color — can’t quit their jobs.
- Employees across industries told Insider they feel stuck because of financial and cultural reasons.
Alejandro Villegas was looking forward to buying an investment property in 2020.
However, that dream came to a halt at the beginning of the pandemic after he was furloughed from two different companies due to downsizing.
Villegas had to burn through his savings to keep his family afloat.
“The first thing you start to worry about is health care,” Villegas told Insider. “Luckily, my daughters and I were able to get on my wife’s health care coverage.”
Villegas, who works in business development and has a background in engineering, recognizes the privileged position he holds.
With more than 20 years of work experience in his industry, he’s developed a Rolodex of contacts and good reputation — two factors that helped him immensely as he looked for another job.
He also had savings and his wife’s health insurance to rely on, which helped relieve some of the stress associated with being out of work.
Yet even with these advantages, the pandemic has taken a significant financial toll on his family, to the point that when he sees coverage about The Great Resignation and sometimes wonders who’s doing the actual resigning.
The phrase is in reference to the phenomenon where people across industries are quitting their jobs en masse for better working conditions and opportunities. Since taking a considerable pay cut in his current position, Villegas can’t imagine resigning from his current job, and he’s not alone.
“It’s disingenuous to say folks across the board are resigning and sitting tight as they figure out their next moves,” Villegas, who is Mexican-American, said. “If they are, it’s because they have enough resources to survive.”
While the labor movement labeled the Great Resignation is historic, it’s not all inclusive, and thousands of people — many of whom are people of color — can’t leverage the current moment.
Many told Insider that bills to pay and children to feed means quitting their steady source of income isn’t an option.
Financial, cultural pressure forces employers of color to stay in jobs they hate
Diane, who requested her full name not be published for fear of workplace retaliation, recently started working at a law firm.
But she says she would have quit law altogether if she hadn’t racked up thousands of dollars in education debt.
“The postgraduate pressure of trying to find a job in law and not feeling like my law school was supportive made my mental health take a nosedive,” Diane told Insider.
“I would have seriously considered taking time off and even leaving altogether, but after being in law school and accruing debt, I needed the salary to pay it off,” she added.
There were also cultural reasons Diane decided to stick through law school during the height of the pandemic.
As a Black and Asian woman and a daughter of immigrants, people with her background are vastly underrepresented in the industry.
Only 2% of lawyers are Black women, so there’s this ongoing burden to be an example for Black women and other women of color.Diane
“Only 2% of lawyers are Black women, so there’s this ongoing burden to be an example for Black women and other women of color,” Diane said. “And both my parents are immigrants, so I was always taught we don’t quit things.”
She noted that her classmates who did decide to take a break from school or exit law were white and had a significant safety net.
“My parents wouldn’t have the means to support me if I were to quit,” Diane said. “Moving back home and having them take care of the bills was never on the table for me.”
Theresa, who also requested her full name not be published for fear of workplace retaliation, cited financial and cultural reasons for not quitting her job too.
A single mother and social worker, Theresa is burnt out. She often works 10-hour days and is up close and personal with difficult cases.
She said she doesn’t feel supported by her workplace, particularly as an Afro-Latina, but has already invested several years there and is holding onto the hope of a promotion. Her master’s degree has sunk her further into debt and she can’t afford childcare, so the ability to work remotely as she does in her current role is necessary in case her son’s school closes again.
“Everyday I dread going to work,” Theresa said. “I’m physically and mentally exhausted from not being respected or valued, but I have rent to pay. I have my son’s medical bills. I can’t quit unless I find something better.”
Social media skews the truth about the number of people quitting
In September, a record 4.4 million people quit their jobs, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Exact data on how many of those who left roles are people of color is difficult to come by, particularly since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t publish demographic statistics.
Despite the lack of data, there is evidence that some people of color are quitting their jobs, particularly those who work in retail trade, health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food services industries.
Per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these industries, in which people of color are over-represented, are currently experiencing the highest levels of employee turnover.
Sekou Siby, the president and CEO of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, which advocates for racial and gender equality and better working conditions in the restaurant industry, said the bureau’s stats track with what he’s observed in his position at ROC United, where he mostly works with women and people of color.
“More people of color and immigrant women are quitting their restaurant jobs because they now have leverage, whereas before they had to put up with low pay,” Siby said. “There’s more competition across industries, so workers are feeling more empowered than ever before, but that doesn’t mean everyone is able to leave their current jobs.”
Yet, experts say more data broken down by racial and ethnic categorizations is needed to provide a clearer picture of The Great Resignation.
Without it, social media is providing a skewed picture of everyone just up and quitting their jobs, Aileen Luib, a Filipino entrepreneur and personal finance influencer who is currently looking to return to the corporate world to support her content creation, told Insider.
We need to be careful of pushing this idea of what financial freedom looks like because it looks different for everybodyAileen Luib
“It’s giving me that pressure of everyone quitting their job and here I am returning to the corporate world because I need that guaranteed income,” Luib said.
She plans to use social media for posting purposes and take a break from using it as a consumer so that she can create some distance between the stream of unrealistic Great Resignation posts she’s seeing.
She added that social media can sometimes promote a one-dimensional and “harmful” view of what financial freedom looks like, particularly since some influencers who are peddling Great Resignation narratives fail to acknowledge that they have the financial stability to quit their jobs before encouraging other people to do so.
“On social media now there’s this thing where people are always encouraging others to work for yourself … hustle and grind until people know your name and it’s very toxic, this hustle culture,” Luib said.
“We need to be careful of pushing this idea of what financial freedom looks like because it looks different for everybody and it can convince you to do things that might not be in your best interest.”
Racial inequities the pandemic exposed have not gone away
From vaccine access to high unemployment rates among people of color, particularly Black and Latina women, the pandemic has revealed and exacerbated existing inequalities for people of color.
Some people worry that in the attempt to return to the status quo, the recovery of communities of color will be left behind.
They see this playing out in the coverage of the Great Resignation, which they say centers those who are privileged at the expense of low-wage workers and people of color – who routinely deal with toxicity, racism, and constant microaggressions in their workplaces.
Villegas noted that “it’s been difficult” to see the shift from the focus on the ‘heroics of essential workers” to Great Resignation coverage that sometimes ignores them.
“This prevailing narrative of folks that can just sit the labor market out needs to be finetuned,” Villegas said.
“Americans, specifically people of color, have been hit by the pandemic pretty hard and are already often starting from a place where they don’t have as many advantages, but that falls by the wayside for a more business friendly story.”