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1 in 3 Americans who switched jobs during the Great Resignation say they did it for better pay

About one in three working Americans switched jobs over the past two years, and better pay was the most common reason, according to a new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll. Even if they didn’t change their employer, the poll found, six out of 10 people working for pay in the U.S. received raises, especially young Americans, college graduates and Democrats.

To stay or go?

  • 38 percent of U.S. adults who are working said they had changed jobs in the past two years, in this latest poll. That number is similar to a January 2018 NPR/Marist poll, when 32 percent of employed Americans had recently changed jobs.
  • Roughly half of people who make less than $75,000 a year – 46 percent – said they got new jobs. People who make $75,000 a year and up were less likely to have said the same thing, at 33 percent.
  • Those aged 45 and under were twice as likely as those 45 or older to have switched jobs (48 percent versus 22 percent), and Gen Z and millennials were the group of Americans most likely to have changed jobs at 52 percent. Meanwhile, only 18 percent of Baby Boomers switched jobs.

Since younger people are more likely to change jobs than older people, these findings are consistent with what’s to be expected, said Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard University.

WATCH: As Fed raises interest rates to combat inflation, central banks around the world follow

And when it comes to why people changed jobs, the fact that those who aren’t at the top of the income scale were looking and finding new work likely isn’t a fluke.

changed jobs for pay site

Graphic by Megan McGrew/ PBS NewsHour

Why people got new jobs

  • The top reason people said they switched gigs in the last two years was for better pay. For nearly every demographic, better pay outranked other reasons for changing jobs, such as better opportunities, relocation, losing a previous job or looking for more flexible or remote work.
  • Just under a quarter of people who said they switched jobs did it for better opportunities, while about one in 10 changed because they relocated or they lost their job.
  • Other reasons people changed jobs included a reduction in hours or benefits, the option to work remotely or the option for more flexible hours, but those reasons represented much smaller groups of people.
  • Better pay was the number one reason men changed jobs — at 15 percent – but the top reason for women was finding a better opportunity, at 9 percent. Just 7 percent of women said they changed jobs for better pay.
reason for changing jobs site

Graphic by Megan McGrew/ PBS NewsHour

The number of workers changing jobs for better pay reflects the tight labor market, even though it isn’t a particularly large jump from 2018, Goldin said. To her, it’s something of a surprise that so few people said they changed jobs for more flexible hours or the ability to work remotely.

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“I would have expected those to be larger,” she said.

Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll, said that pay and opportunity are historically the top reasons people change jobs, and she was surprised that the poll showed nearly half of respondents had other motivations.

Economists say the COVID pandemic, its shocks and stressors, have driven Americans — particularly millennials — to reexamine their work lives. For some, that’s meant quitting, considering a career change, or moving to other opportunities. Low unemployment and a tight market have been supporting this trend. But interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve aimed at curbing inflation, including the latest three-quarters of a percentage point increase on Wednesday, are expected to drive unemployment back up.

Who’s earning more

  • 61 percent of workers said they got a pay raise in the last year, compared with 56 percent of employed people in 2018.
  • 63 percent of employed men reported a pay raise in the last year compared to 58 percent of employed women.
  • A much higher percentage of Gen Z and millennial workers reported pay raises than Baby Boomers – 70 percent versus 48 percent.
  • People in lower-income households were less likely than those in higher-income households to have gotten a pay bump – 55 percent of workers making less than $75,000 got raises, but 66 percent of those who make $75,000 or more said the same.
  • 68 percent of college grads reported getting a pay raise, compared with 54 percent of those who didn’t graduate college.
  • Political affiliation wasn’t a good predictor of who changed jobs. But that’s not true with pay raises: 72 percent of Democrats reported getting a pay raise over the last year, compared with 51 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents.

READ MORE: Why only certain people can ‘quiet quit’

received raise college site

Graphic by Megan McGrew/ PBS NewsHour

The fact that college graduates were more likely than non-college grads to be employed, and much likelier to have gotten a pay raise, could be reflected in the political breakdown, Carvalho said. Data shows Americans without a college degree now largely support Republican candidates.

received raise party site

Graphic by Megan McGrew/ PBS NewsHour

“I think it’s very, very significant that when we look at people who say they supported Trump, a majority of them said they didn’t get a raise in the past year. And when we look at people who supported Joe Biden, nearly three-quarters — more than seven in 10 – said they did,” Carvalho said. While union members and working class Americans used to form the bulk of the Democrats’ base, many of those people now vote Republican. That huge gap could explain why Democrats see the economy more positively than Republicans do, Carvalho said, and why Republicans were more likely to say they’re cutting back on spending than Democrats.

PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll conducted a survey Aug. 29 – Sept. 1 that polled 1,236 U.S. adults (margin of error of 4.1 percentage points), 1,151 registered voters (margin of error of 4.3 percentage points), 697 adults working for pay (margin of error of 5.5 percentage points) and 261 adults working for pay who changed jobs (margin of error of 9.0 percentage points).