In his subscriber-only newsletter this morning, economist Paul Krugman speculated about why so many people have left their low-wage jobs recently:
The experience of the pandemic may have led many workers to explore opportunities they wouldn’t have looked at previously.
I’d been thinking vaguely along these lines, but Arindrajit Dube, who has been one of my go-to labor economists throughout this pandemic, recently put it very clearly. As he says, there’s considerable evidence that “workers at low-wage jobs [have] historically underestimated how bad their jobs are.” When something — like, say, a deadly pandemic — forces them out of their rut, they realize what they’ve been putting up with. And because they can learn from the experience of other workers, there may be a “quits multiplier” in which the decision of some workers to quit ends up inducing other workers to follow suit.
I've got a lot of anecdotal evidence to back this up. People I know or interact with in the service industry have consistently said they don't tolerate things they used to tolerate. (You've probably heard the same thing.)
Krugman also suggests that the pandemic gave people time and space to think about other jobs they might do instead, where the phenomenon of status-quo bias might have had them in a rut beforehand.
It may take years to see, let alone explain, all the changes Covid-19 has wrought upon the world. Krugman's observations make sense as a starting point for this bit, though.