Employers in Washington have struggled to find enough workers — but it could have been worse: Washingtonians were far less likely to quit than was the case in nearly any other state, new federal data shows.

Just 82,000 Washington workers, or 2.4% of the state’s workforce, left their jobs in August, according to a report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s a “quit rate” well below the August national average of 2.9% and lower than all but three other states — New York (2.2%), Connecticut (2.2%) and Pennsylvania (2.1%) — and Washington, D.C. (1.7%).

Washington’s July quit rate was also 2.4%, which was below the national average (2.7%) and lower than all but five states and Washington, D.C.

Part of Washington’s advantage could be the state’s relatively high wages, including the nation’s highest minimum wage: $13.69/hour. Connecticut also has a high minimum wage: $13. By contrast, the states with the three highest August quit rates — Kentucky (4.5%), Georgia (4.2%) and Idaho (4.1%) — also have very low minimum wages: Kentucky and Idaho both pay the federal minimum of $7.25, while Georgia allows $5.15 (though most workers get at least $7.25.)

Washington workers also enjoy other worker-friendly regulations, including laws on scheduling changes (in Seattle) and paid family leave statewide; some other states with progressive workplace regulation also boasted low August quit rates, including Connecticut, New York and the District of Columbia, says Jacob Vigdor, an economist at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance.


“In the midst of a labor shortage, any worker dissatisfied with their current job has a very good chance of finding something better — better pay, better benefits, better working conditions — if they look around,” Vigdor says. “From this perspective, it would make sense that states with stricter labor market regulations have lower quit rates.”

But there are plenty of exceptions. Colorado has a minimum wage of $12.32 and a quit rate of 3.4%. Pennsylvania, with its 2.1% quit rate, has a minimum of $7.25. Illinois, which is also known as labor-friendly, had a quit rate of 3.5%.

Another factor — stricter COVID regulations and more widespread vaccination — could also be helping keep workers on the job, especially in public-facing positions with a high risk of exposure.

States with August quit rates of 2.4% or lower have vaccination rates of 60% or higher, as does Washington, D.C. Conversely, many states with high quit rates also have relatively low vaccination rates. That goes for many red states, such as Georgia, with a 48% vaccination rate, and Idaho (just under 50%), but also for blue Illinois, which has an August quit rate of 3.5% and a current vaccination rate of around 54%.

Vigdor speculates that workplace regulations, wages and COVID-related policy may be influencing quit rates in complex ways — including ways that don’t fit neatly with conventional COVID narratives.

“It may be the case that the states with high COVID case counts in August had high quit rates not because COVID causes people to quit their jobs,” Vigdor says, “but because the lack of mask restrictions, vaccination requirements, and other COVID-related regulations causes both greater economic activity, which means more job openings out there, and higher transmission rates.”

Coverage of the pandemic’s economic impacts is partially underwritten by Microsoft Philanthropies. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all its coverage.