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Americans give bosses same message in record numbers: I quit

WASHINGTON — Americans quit their jobs at a record pace for the second straight month in September, in many cases for more money elsewhere as companies bump up pay to fill job openings that are close to an all-time high.

The Labor Department said Friday that 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, or about 3% of the nation’s workforce. That’s up from 4.3 million in August and far above the pre-pandemic level of 3.6 million. There were 10.4 million job openings, down from 10.6 million in August, which was revised higher.

The figures point to a historic level of turmoil in the job market as newly empowered workers quit jobs, often for higher pay or better working conditions. Incomes are rising, Americans are spending more and the economy is growing, and employers have ramped up hiring to keep pace. Rising inflation, however, is offsetting much of the pay gains for workers.

Friday’s report follows last week’s jobs report, which showed that employers stepped up their hiring in October, adding 531,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, from 4.8%. Hiring rebounded as the Delta wave, which had restrained job gains in August and September, faded.

It is typically perceived as a signal of worker confidence when people leave the jobs they hold. The vast majority of people quit for a new position.

The number of available jobs has topped 10 million for four consecutive months. The record before the pandemic was 7.5 million. There were more job openings in September than the 7.7 million unemployed, illustrating the difficulties so many companies have had finding workers.

In addition to the number of unemployed, there are about 5 million fewer people looking for jobs compared with pre-pandemic trends, making it much harder for employers to hire.

Economists cite many reasons for that decline: Some are mothers unable to find or afford child care, while others are avoiding taking jobs out of fear of contracting COVID-19.

Stimulus checks this year and in 2020, as well as extra unemployment aid that has since expired, has given some families more savings and enabled them to hold off from looking for work.

Quitting has risen particularly sharply in industries that are mostly made up of in-person service jobs, such as restaurants, hotels, and retail, and factories where people work in close proximity. That suggests that at least some people quitting are doing so out of fear of COVID-19 and may be leaving the workforce.

Goldman Sachs, in a research note on Thursday, estimates that most of the 5 million are older Americans who have decided to retire. Only about 1.7 million are aged 25 through 54, which economists consider prime working years.

Goldman estimates that most of those people in their prime working years will return to work in the coming months, but that would still leave a much smaller workforce than before the pandemic. That could leave employers facing labor shortages for months or even years.

Businesses in other countries are facing similar challenges, leading to pay gains and higher inflation in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom.

Competition for U.S. workers is intense for retailers and delivery companies, particularly as they staff up for what is expected to be a healthy winter holiday shopping season.

Online giant Amazon is hiring 125,000 permanent drivers and warehouse workers and offering pay between $18 and $22 an hour. It’s also paying sign-on bonuses of up to $3,000.

Seasonal hiring is also ramping up. Package delivery company UPS is seeking to add 100,000 workers to help with the crush of holiday orders and plans to make job offers to some applicants within 30 minutes.

Dr. Phil: It's clear Summer's parents didn't injure or kill her

On the episode of the “Dr. Phil Show” broadcast on Friday, host Phil McGraw, Ph.D., said he believes the parents of missing Hawkins County 5-year-old Summer Wells did not hurt or kill their daughter.

McGraw, however, joined two body language analysts in urging Summer’s mother, Candus Bly, to try hard to break through whatever is keeping her, perhaps subconsciously, from telling everything she “knows” about what could have happened to her daughter.

Summer was reported missing on June 15. Exhaustive searches of the rugged terrain near the family’s home in the Beech Creek area of Hawkins County and ongoing investigations by multiple agencies have been fruitless.

“It’s clear to me that neither of you did anything to hurt your daughter,” McGraw told Don Wells and Candus Bly. “There’s no way that either one of you did anything to your daughter. I’m not sitting here wondering if you killed your daughter.”

McGraw at one point in the show said both Wells and Bly had passed lie detector tests.

As for his own reasoning, though, McGraw said Summer’s parents simply did not have time to hide her body far enough away from their home for it not to have been discovered already.

As far as the opinions of McGraw and two body language analysts, who the show host described as a “human lie detector,” all three said they believe Don Wells was not holding back any information.

Bly, they said, seemed not to be sharing everything she knows, but she might not realize something she knows is significant to solving the case — or the mere thought of even a possibility something she knows is linked in some way to Summer’s disappearance could be too terrible for her to consciously acknowledge.

“You may know something you don’t even know you know,” McGraw said to Bly, before pressing her again to say what she thinks could have happened to Summer.

“I don’t know what happened,” Bly said. “She just went gone.”

“If it wasn’t you, who was it?” McGraw said, again pointing out he has ruled Bly out as a suspect.

“It had to be a stranger,” Bly said.

Later, McGraw told Summer’s parents he would, based on his experience, guarantee them one thing.

“When this is solved, this isn’t going to be a stranger,” he said.

McGraw asked the couple if they knew of anyone that for any reason would want to hurt them or their family out of revenge.

Don Wells said he’d had to fire a “lot of guys,” including for “being on meth,” and he’d fired one man the day before Summer went missing.

McGraw asked about the couple’s past brushes with the law, including connections to the drug community. Wells said he and Candus have tried to stay away from “those guys” and had placed importance on keeping their children in church.

McGraw brought up human trafficking and the abduction of children to be sold into sex abuse, and moved on to ask Bly why she became upset and left the room in an earlier interview by the “human lie detector” pair when one of them asked her about “the Cornbread Mafia.”

“Why did that upset you so much?” McGraw asked.

“Because I don’t even know what that is,” Bly said. “It sounds horrible.”

Wells said Bly had felt interrogated, a description McGraw dismissed.

“I’m standing up for you,” McGraw said to Bly. “But I’m going to investigate everything.”

Bly, McGraw said, should be at his side as he goes looking under rocks looking for information, helping to find and turn the rocks over.

Wells said the family had been victims of “someone local” who had taken things from their home when the family was away. Wells said there are different groups of people in the area and the groups have names. He said to perhaps give McGraw and the body language team some perspective, they’d compare sort of like the gangs of Los Angeles — but hillbillies.

“I’ve never heard about no Cornbread Mafia,” Wells said.

McGraw again told Bly he thinks she knows more than she’s telling.

“You need to help us find your daughter,” he said, reminding viewers he was going on record that he doesn’t think either parent killed or injured Summer.

“We don’t suspect you of doing anything wrong,” McGraw said to Bly, going on to say maybe she’s blocking something too terrible to think about.

“You’ve got to get through that ... at some level you know more,” McGraw said.

Early in the interview, Bly said Summer liked to play outside, but didn’t wander far and instead “stuck close to the house.”

Wells said he thinks Summer was taken either from the basement or from near the back of the house outside the door to the basement, taken on foot through the wooded area at the back of the house and to a waiting vehicle on the road below.

Wells said that’s the route search dogs took when tracking Summer’s scent.

“We just want our baby home,” Wells said early in the interview.

“I want to find that child and bring her back,” McGraw said near the end.

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Ballad Health CEO outlines staff vaccine mandate

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine said the system had little choice in mandating staff be vaccinated against COVID-19, but said he opposed the way in which the federal government enacted the requirement.

“I pray that people will choose to stay,” Levine said. “I know that there will be some who may have a different perspective on the vaccine and choose to go somewhere else. This has been the concern I’ve shared with Congress. I couldn’t have been more clear with what our concerns are with the way the federal government did this. This has never been done. The federal government has never, historically, implemented a nationwide mandate like this.”

In an email to employees Thursday, Levine announced the hospital system would be requiring employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, as health care providers not in compliance with the rule could face fines and be barred from participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs. As Levine said in his email to staff, such a decision “would be devastating for our region.”

According to the new guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs must require their employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. Unlike the mandate for private employers, a testing opt-out for those who do not want the vaccine isn’t available.

Following federal rule, Ballad requires employees to take COVID vaccine

Ballad employees who receive a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine, at this point, would not need to submit to weekly testing. Levine said there was also no criteria for religious exemptions, and that the system’s administrators don’t like the idea of being judge and jury on what someone’s religious beliefs are, unless there is a reason not to believe someone.

Currently, 60% to 63% of Ballad employees are fully vaccinated, with those who aren’t yet vaccinated required to seek a medical or religious exemption by Nov. 24 or receive their first shot no later than 6 p.m. on Dec. 5.

As that deadline nears, Levine said the system will have a better idea of how many people in each department may leave because of the mandate.

Levine said that a “surprisingly high” number of nurses are unvaccinated, and said losing even 3% to 5% of Ballad’s nursing staff would have a major effect on the hospital system — especially as rural areas struggle mightily to attract and retain nurses amid a national nursing shortage.

“Every rural (hospital) system I’ve talked to has said the same thing — they’re really concerned because the current shortages are more pronounced in rural communities, and everybody’s concern is the same: If we lose any more people, where are we going to get new people from?” said Levine. “Because there’s a national shortage, we’re competing with suburban and urban health systems for this talent.”

This year alone, Ballad will spend more than $100 million on contract labor to help offset the more than 700 nursing vacancies.

“How is it that you can look at this and not say rural communities are not disproportionately affected? We are,” said Levine. “And so making it more difficult to retain people and recruit people, to me doesn’t seem like a logical answer — particularly people who’ve stuck with us for two years and taken care of folks in this region.”

Levine said that just because the vaccine is now mandatory, they won’t stop trying to convince people to get the shot through education and have a team designated to help answer employees’ vaccine questions. Levine said now that the vaccine is required, he expects more people will be asking questions to have all the necessary information before making a choice to get vaccinated or leave their job.

Reiterating what he told Congress in his testimony last month, Levine took issue with the federal government’s approach to mandating vaccines, which he said he believes disregards the cultural differences of urban and rural communities.

“In my view, people in Washington (D.C.) do not seem to understand that health equity and cultural differences in the delivery of care have to consider the fact that people do live in rural communities and their cultural differences are not irrelevant,” Levine said.

When asked how mandating the COVID-19 vaccine differs from mandating the flu vaccine, which Ballad does, he said it comes down to people’s uncertainty toward the vaccine due to the rampant misinformation, combined with “unprecedented” staffing shortages.

“Those two things combined are the reasons why we did not do the mandate before, and we were really trying to educate and encourage people before we took that drastic of a step,” Levine said. And though hospital officials weren’t in favor of a vaccine mandate, they did consider the possibility of raising insurance premiums for the unvaccinated as a way to encourage vaccine uptake, but the federal mandate beat them to the punch.

“That might have actually gotten more people to think twice about it without being forced to do it,” said Levine, “but we were never given that opportunity.”

In this undated photo, Don Wells and Candus Bly are shown with their four children, including Summer, lower right. The 5-year-old girl has been missing from their home in Hawkins County’s Beech Creek community since June 15.

This undated photo shows pale touch-me-not flowers in New Paltz, New York. Related to our cultivated impatiens, pale touch-me-not is considered by some people to be a weed, by others to be a wildflower.