Surrounded by the sweet smell of freshly baked cookies, Alana Aidoo, a baker at Insomnia Cookies in Baton Rouge, gave her notice last week after working there about four months.

She quit.

Aidoo, 19, said her grades were suffering and the low pay and time away from school at LSU weren’t helping. She was making $10 an hour.

"I just feel like I could be spending my time better elsewhere,” Aidoo said.

Aidoo isn’t alone. A record 4.3 million people quit their jobs in the United States in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the agency’s October Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, about 2.9 percent of the workforce voluntarily left their jobs.

In Louisiana, 57,000 people left their jobs in August.

Economists have dubbed it the Great Resignation, and Louisiana workers are contributing to the problem. Most of those quitting are younger employees making low wages. Pandemic relief checks, student loan payment deferrals and other economic incentives gave people more leeway when it comes to their employment.

That has resulted in the number of job openings per unemployed worker reaching an all-time high at 1.3 jobs available for every unemployed person, said Gary Wagner, Acadiana business economist and economics professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

“If you are currently employed, it is a very good time to move to some other type of employment because you’ll likely experience a decent pay increase,” Wagner said.

According to the bureau’s report, nearly 7% of these employees were in the “accommodations and food services” industries, meaning 1 out of every 14 servers, bartenders and other hospitality employees, like Aidoo, are walking out.

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“I just wish I was paid more,” Aidoo said.

Education and health services employees are also quitting at record rates. Julia Folse, 25 of Lafayette, quit her job last fall working with children on the autism disorder spectrum after she found out she was pregnant. She was nervous about contracting COVID-19 while being pregnant.

Now unemployed, Folse is studying online at the University of Louisiana at Monroe to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice. She plans to return to work after completing her master’s next fall.

“Right now, I am just focused on my baby, school and maintaining the house,” Folse said.

Wagner said many people have given up looking for work since the pandemic, though he did think that the high amounts of people quitting are not necessarily COVID-19 related, because more people are out and around other people.

“In the United States, the labor participation rate has stabilized,” he said. “It is actually starting to pick up a little bit in the last two to three months. In Louisiana it’s actually the opposite, people just keep leaving.”

Also, the stoppage of extra unemployment benefits and other pandemic relief has not yet resulted in more people looking for work. In late July the state stopped taking the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit as part of the COVID-19 relief bill on top of the state benefit, which maxes out at $247 a week.

“I don’t think cutting the unemployment benefits had much of an impact on Louisiana, but Louisiana is a low cost of living state,” Wagner said. “So people have been finding ways to survive by either relying on one income instead of two or relying on extended family.”

Though many people may be holding out for higher-paying jobs, Wagner said some of the economic effects, including inflation, could be harmful for Louisiana.

“We are not going to see innovation occurring," Wagner said. "So long term it can be very detrimental.”