ARLINGTON — Heidi Swanson never expected to change careers. In the past few months, though, Swanson has decided she’s done working in grocery stores.
After 22 years, Swanson wants to spend more time with her family, a better work-life balance and less stress. Recently, she became a quarantine assistant for the Lakewood School District — and she loves it. It’s a career move Swanson never expected to make, but is thankful she did.
“I think a lot of people are reaching out and saying ‘You know what? These are skills I can use elsewhere and I am valuable as an employee,’” Swanson said. “Before, they didn’t feel valued.”
Swanson is one of the millions of Americans who quit their job during the pandemic and joined “The Great Resignation.” In January alone, 4.3 million Americans quit their job. Economists don’t fully understand why so many people are quitting, or if the people who leave the labor force plan to return. It’s too soon to say, said Employment Security Department regional economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman in January.
The state unemployment rate was 4.4% in January, and only slightly higher at 4.5% in Snohomish County. Roughly 84,000 people in Washington quit their jobs in December. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to publish data from January later this month.
Liz Morgan is technically part of The Great Resignation, too, even though her plan to change careers predates the pandemic. Morgan left her job to start her own business.
Morgan, previously a corporate recruiter, now owns and operates FIELD by Morgan & Moss with her husband, K.C. Morgan. The Edmonds-based flower business took off just as the pandemic began in 2020.
“That was when people really wanted to have flowers,” Liz Morgan said. “You couldn’t see your mother down the street, so you would send her flowers and tell her how much you love her.”
The couple opened a retail location less than a year later. K.C. Morgan left his job to join her.
“He started out growing flowers for me,” Liz Morgan said. “After we opened the shop, it became very clear that he needed to be right alongside me. He quit his job and career after 20-plus years in the tech industry.”
Liz Morgan liked her old job, but her dream was always to open her own flower shop. When she tells customers about the origin of FIELD, they often express a similar desire to make drastic changes in their own lives, like moving, switching careers or having another baby.
“Change can be scary, but life is not always guaranteed and life is not always certain,” Liz Morgan said. “In order to enjoy your life and be present, you have to do what soothes your soul. … So many people during this time have already made a change, or they’re wanting to.”
Mary Goetz, 62, retired early from her career as a registered nurse. Goetz had spent the past 23 years at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
In some ways it was a difficult decision, Goetz said. She loves helping people and being a nurse was her childhood dream. Goetz was always the nurse while playing “army” with her siblings and neighbors. As a first grader, she only brought home medical books from the library.
“It was never a story or a fantasy, or whatever the boys and other girls would pick,” Goetz said. “I always picked a book that had cool pictures in it and physiology and biology. I was interested in the science part of things.”
Goetz said her frustration was boiling beneath the surface for about five to 10 years before she retired.
“The pandemic just kind of opened the scab to the wound,” Goetz said. “CEOs, administrator types, were making huge dollars. The meat and potatoes of the business — the nurses, the nurses’ aides, the housekeepers, everybody — we were making just enough to keep us quiet.”
Goetz said her family begged her to retire or change jobs for years, because of the stress. Now that she finally has, Goetz said she feels guilty for leaving her colleagues, but mostly a sense of relief.
“I’m sleeping at night,” Goetz said. “I sleep like eight or nine hours, which is crazy unusual. I’m healthier, I feel better, I’m not as angry. I was angry, and in hindsight, I’m sure that was stress.”
Swanson, the quarantine assistant, said her first job in grocery profoundly impacted how she viewed herself. Swanson was a single mother when she became a cashier. She needed a job with flexible hours and great medical benefits.
Eventually, Swanson worked her way up to floral manager. After 17 years in the same store, though, she quit when a supervisor was disrespectful to her. Within 15 minutes, the store had found someone to cover her shift. Swanson loved her next grocery job, but never forgot the experience.
A couple months into working for the school district, Swanson had a family emergency that required her to take time off. She called the district, unsure what to expect. They told her to take care of herself and her family.
“It was unbelievable to feel like they cared about me and my family,” Swanson said. “I cried. It blew me away, and I was so overwhelmed with gratitude because I felt valued.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated K.C. Morgan’s last name.
Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.