• Quit

    It has become axiomatic to say that millennial generation are chronic job hoppers, constantly seeking new opportunities, often more driven by personal fulfillment than economics. The data, however, paints a more nuanced and complex picture. Since the Great Recession of 2007–2009, millennials are actually staying longer with their employers.

    Today, median job tenure for 25- to 34-year-olds stands at a hair over 3 years, up from 2.7 years in January 2008, although down from a January 2012 high of 3.2 years. Younger workers were of course most impacted by the 2007–2009 economic contraction, with a quarter of all 18- to 29-year-olds moving back in with their parents, according to a Pew study, and those fortunate enough to have jobs are understandably less likely to risk a change in an uncertain and tight labor market. Millennials, it seems, are not nearly as idealistic or flighty (depending upon your interpretation) as conventional wisdom has it.

    The more interesting question is whether millennials’ surprising commitment to their current jobs is good for them. The answer may very well be “no.” In a more robust economy, millennials ought to behave more like the job-hoppers we believe them to be. Regardless of the economic environment, younger workers usually leave current jobs for better opportunities—with good reason. Such has been the case for decades, as researchers Robert Topel and Michael Ward noted in a study they published in 1986.

    Per their report, “Job Mobility and the Careers of Young Men,” young workers changed jobs an average of seven times during their first 10 years in the labor force, representing two-thirds of the total number of jobs they would hold in their lifetimes. The single most significant driver of this voluntary job-hopping was the pursuit of higher wages.

    So should more millennials quit their jobs? As it turns out, many economists would offer a qualified “yes.”

    Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, offered these thoughts in an interview with Marketplace: “One of the ways people in this labor market see advancement, see wage increases, is through quitting the job they have and moving to one that's a better match for them—a better fit for their skills, their experience, with better wages.”

    Still, the argument has a chicken-and-egg quality to it. Are young workers faring poorly because they are staying at dead-end jobs? Or are they sticking around because their peers’ job switches have fared so poorly? While we lack a definitive answer, the economy’s growth, steady but slow, suggests millennials’ unwillingness to job-hop may actually have prolonged weak labor market conditions.

    That is why some economists and policymakers are greeting the recent drop in job tenure and the corresponding upswing in the quits rate—which, since registering 1.3 percent in July 2009, ticked up to 1.8 percent in July 2014—with assurance. Now, if more millennials would only live up to their stereotypes, we might be well on our way to a more robust and enduring economic expansion. Talk about having your cake, and eating it, too.

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