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At This Hour

Americans Are Quitting Jobs In Record Numbers, 4.4 Million In Sept.; U.N.: Afghanistan On The Brink Of A "Humanitarian Catastrophe". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 21, 2021 - 12:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: It's been dubbed the great resignation. One of the most confounding economic trends of 2021, millions of Americans were -- millions of American workers leaving their jobs as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. A record 4.4 million quit in September alone, in October, another 4.2 million. CNN's Matt Egan is here taking a look at this. Matt, it is one of the most interesting trends of this year. And also, it may be one of the most misunderstood. What is the data tell you about why people are leaving their jobs?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, Kate, you're right. This is one of the most fascinating and most misunderstood trends of 2021. As you mentioned, workers are quitting at a pace we've just never seen before. Quits crashed when COVID erupted. But that really picked up steam in 2021. And between July and October, more than 4 million Americans quit their jobs each month. And this is happening for a whole number of reasons, including health concerns, a desire for more pay and more flexibility and also childcare issues.

But there's also these misconceptions about the great resignation. Now one of them is that, you know, people are quitting to leave the workforce entirely. And that's often not the case. A lot of times people are actually quitting to stay in the workforce, but in a better job, again, maybe with more flexibility and better benefits.

And that's because this is a really hot jobs market. Unemployment is very low after peaking at nearly 15 percent April 2020. The jobless rate is down to 4.2 percent, workers have all the leverage. The other misconception here is that this is all about younger people who maybe don't want to work and feel like they don't need to because of government aid.

But that also is not really the central story here. When you actually look at the numbers, we've seen that nearly 70 percent of the 5 million people who have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic are older than 55. And many baby boomers maybe don't need to go back to work because of rising home values and investment portfolios.

And don't forget, a lot of people who've dropped out of the workforce are moms and dads who are dealing with childcare issues, either because of COVID concerns or because of the high cost of childcare. Now Build Back Better would have addressed some of this by trying to limit the cost of childcare and instituting universal pre-K. But those provisions along with the rest of that bill are on ice. Kate?


BOLDUAN: For sure it's good to see Matt. Thanks for putting it all together.

Here to talk more about this is the man who coined the phrase the great resignation, Anthony Klotz, Professor of Business Administration at Texas A&M University back with me. It's good to see you again, Anthony. What more have you learned about who these people are? Why we're seeing the great resignation in 2021?

ANTHONY KLOTZ, PROFESSOR OF BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION, TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY: Yes, so we're now in seven straight months of record resignation numbers. And building on what Matt said, we are learning more about who these individuals are. First, we do know a lot of this turnover is coming from lower wage frontline work where individuals are looking just for better wages for better benefits for some childcare.

At the same time, there's higher than expected numbers of resignations in mid-career workers who are really looking for better development opportunities, and seeing this as an opportunity to really upgrade their careers. And then finally, the early retirements are really high as well. And some of those individuals are going into entrepreneurial ventures too. We see entrepreneurial activity very high.

So again, we were starting to understand more about these three big different chunks of individuals who are driving a lot of these resignations.

BOLDUAN: So this is, you said, this is what we've been watching, and you've been studying and all of 2021. What do you think this means for 2022? What's your outlook?

KLOTZ: Yes, so as we get near New Year's resolutions times, I think a lot of people are wondering how many career change resolutions will be made. Now, what's important to understand is that companies have also been responding to this for seven months now in terms of offering better wages and benefits, more development opportunities for their employees, and of course, more flexible work. And so that's helping to retain a lot of employees.

And so we could see, although resignations will stay elevated, they could drop down a bit because of these responses that organizations are taking, at the same time as some organizations offer better benefits, but others don't, that's going to cause a move, shifted employees from organizations that are a little bit slower to respond to those that are out front. And so we will continue to see elevated resignations due to that.

BOLDUAN: Now the one thing that you're also looking at now is kind of a phenomenon of boomerang employees, those who will be looking to get their old jobs back. What do you mean by that? What are you saying? KLOTZ: Yes, so boomerang employees doesn't just have to do with employees wanting to go back to their old job. It has to do with companies seeing former employees as a great source of future employees, because the relationship is already there.

And so I think in 2022, we'll see a lot of these win-win situations where employees are perhaps open to returning to their prior jobs and prior organizations, and companies are looking forward to bringing those individuals back.

BOLDUAN: I like a little optimistic outlook period for 2022. Are you finding that this is unique to the United States, or is the great resignation happening in other parts of the world as well at this point?

KLOTZ: So this fascinating conversation is emerging around why it is almost solely concentrated in the United States thus far. Now part of that is because the U.S. tracks resignations a lot more closely than other countries do. So we don't have a great feel for it.

There's some evidence that is happening in the U.K. and Europe as well, but not nearly to the extent that it's happening in the United States. And so there's a lot of other countries right now that are wondering, Will 2022 be the year that the great resignation comes to Singapore, or Australia, or further into Europe.

And so we're going to be watching closely and that will tell us that these are companies -- these are countries that also provided stimulus during the pandemic, to their citizens and so forth. So this will tell us whether the great resignation says something about the United States versus something that's a more global phenomenon.

BOLDUAN: So interesting. It's good to have you back on. Thanks, Anthony.

KLOTZ: Thanks for having me, Kate.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us how one city is combating the new Omicron wave by testing all 13 million of its residents. How are they doing it? That's next.


BOLDUAN: Developing at this hour New Zealand is pushing back its planned border reopening in response to the Omicron variant. A phase reopening was planned for early January but New Zealand's COVID Health Minister now says that they're pushing that back until at least the end of February. For more international headlines, let's check in with reporters around the world.


NADA BASHIR, CNN PRODUCER: I'm Nada Bashir in London where many are still questioning whether or not new COVID-19 restrictions will be brought into force ahead of Christmas. New Year's Eve celebrations in London have now been cancelled amid concerns over a surge in the number of new coronavirus cases being reported with London message econ declaring a major incident in the capitol over the weekend.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said his government is monitoring the situation hour by hour, stressing that the government must reserve the right to implement further measures if needed to protect public health. At this stage, though, the government says it's sticking to its plan B measures that includes mandatory mask wearing and most indoor public places a COVID pass check at venues including nightclubs and theaters and a work from home order.

And of course the government is still encouraging people to go out and get vaccinated with Britain seeing a significant uptake in the booster jab over the last few days. But as cases continue to rise, and as the Omicron variant continues to spread, health experts are ringing the alarm calling on the government to take urgent action to prevent hospital seeing a surge in admissions in the New Year.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fred Pleitgen in Berlin. And as various European countries are already struggling with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Germany is also bracing. And a new German government is saying that it wants to take action.

Now the chancellor Olaf Scholz, he's meeting with state leaders today and they want to put in place a flurry of new measures to try and at least slow down the spread of Omicron. Now the centerpiece of all this is restrictions on public gatherings.

They want public gatherings to be limited to no more than 10 people even if those people are vaccinated. Now all of this is not set to take hold for Christmas however after Christmas and of course will severely restrict New Year's celebrations here in Germany as large scale celebrations will be all but impossible, especially since all of this goes hand in hand with a ban on fireworks that the Germans have put in place as well.

The German authorities say they understand they can't completely prevent Omicron from taking hold here, but they do want to try and delay it spread as much as possible to make sure that the healthcare system this country is not overwhelmed.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Selena Wang in Tokyo. All across Asia, the Omicron variant is disrupting reopening plans. Australia's New South Wales reported a record of more than 3,000 daily COVID-19 infections. Cases in Queensland are doubling every two days. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he wants to avoid travel restrictions ahead of Christmas. He said the country is not going back to lockdowns or quote shutting down people's lives.

Meanwhile, China is trying to contain a cluster of cases in the city of Shiyan. The city has reported 91 COVID-19 cases since December 9th, the city has launched mass testing of its nearly 13 billion residents with the Winter Olympics coming up, China is doubling down on it zero COVID strategy. Authorities have urged residents in any city where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed to avoid travel for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.



BOLDUAN: Thank you all so much for that.

Coming up still for us, on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, an urgent report on the frontlines of the hunger crisis now gripping Afghanistan.


MUSAFER, RAZIA'S FATHER (through translator): There is no work, no income, no food to bring her. Sometimes we have nothing to eat. Every time I see her, I get upset.



BOLDUAN: At least 1 million children under the age of five at risk of dying from starvation that is the harsh warning from the U.N. on the horrific reality on the ground in Afghanistan right now, the U.N. declaring the country quote on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. CNN's Anna Coren has the story. We want to warn you that some of this is difficult to watch.



ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A little girl sobs, gently rubbing her ears, in a fable attempt to ease the pain tormenting her body. She doesn't have the energy to cry the way other sick children do.

Kamila is exhausted, as she lies in a hospital bed in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, slowly starving to death. The two and a half year old weighs just over five kilograms, 11 pounds, about a third of what a normal toddler her age should.

Her mother is sick and we have poor people, explains Kamila's grandmother. She tried to breastfeed but had no milk to give. Kamila now one of at least a million Afghan children under the age of five at risk of dying from starvation.

For months, the U.N. has been sounding the alarm, warning that Afghanistan was on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The Taliban takeover on the 15th of August, so international funds immediately dry up, triggering an economic collapse in an already impoverished country where foreign aid represented 43 percent of the country's GDP and 75 percent of government spending according to the World Bank.

But as the U.S. withhold billions of dollars in Afghan reserves and sanctions are imposed on the Taliban government, the West's attempts to force fundamental change within the group are hurting the Afghan people. And with the country in the grips of winter, facing one of the worst droughts in decades, the most vulnerable of paying the price.

In this hospital in Ghor province in northwestern Afghanistan, up to 100 mothers and children turn up each day with varying cases of malnutrition. Dr. Faziluhaq Farjad has been working here for the past six years and has never seen this level of desperation.

DR. FAZILUHAQ FARJAD, HEAD OF MALNUTRITION, GHOR HOSPITAL (through translator): Almost 70 percent of the cases are severe and this is in the city. Imagine how bad the districts are. If nobody pays attention, it's going to get much worse. We are in a disaster.

COREN (voice-over): One of his patients receiving treatment is Razia. This is her third visit to hospital in eight months. With skeletal frame a clear sign his child who's just a few months away from turning three is not getting better.

MUSAFER (through translator): There is no work, no income, no food to bring her. Sometimes we have nothing to eat. Every time I see her, I get upset.

COREN (voice-over): The humanitarian community is collectively issuing an SOS. UNHCR says the country is witnessing truly unprecedented levels of hunger, now inflicting more than half its population of 38 million people. International Rescue Committee describes a global system failure fueling the crisis, naming Afghanistan the most at risk country of a deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the year ahead. While the International Committee of the Red Cross says the country is on the precipice of manmade catastrophe.

The World Food Programme has been distributing aid around the country. And says the middle class teachers and civil servants are now joining the poor in the queues.

MARY-ELLEN MCGROARTY, AFGHANISTAN COUNTRY DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: Please, please think of just the ordinary people of Afghanistan, the children of Afghanistan, who are facing into a winter of abject hunger and destitution through no fault of their own, to just a lottery of birth.

COREN (voice-over): Dr. Paul Spiegel from Johns Hopkins University has just returned from Afghanistan consulting for the World Food Programme and is alarmed by what he saw. He says Afghanistan's health system that once relied on 80 percent of its funding from international donors, is now barely functioning and blames the West's sanctions which are gravely impacting government run hospitals imploring for the system to be changed.

PAUL SPIEGEL, DR, CTR FOR HUMANITARIAN HEALTH, JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: The Western governments, U.S., U.K., the E.U. have to be make some decisions quickly or it's going to be too late and therefore there's going to be a tremendous amount of I would say unnecessary deaths.


COREN (voice-over): The little Kamila, her trip to hospital has saved her life for now. After 15 days, she's being discharged with some medicine that may last a few weeks.

She's not very well, but at least she's alive, says her grandmother. It's better from the first day we brought her here. But having put on just a few 100 grams, her fate is as precarious as that of her country, edging closer to the abyss.

Anna Coren, CNN.


BOLDUAN: My god. Anna, thank you for shining a light on that.

Thank you all so much for watching. I'm Kate Bolduan. CNN NEWSROOM with Ana Cabrera starts after a quick break.