Few giving up their jobs over vaccine mandates
Divide over getting the shot may be less than feared
VACCINATION MANDATES are sweeping across the country, both in the public and private sectors. They have produced a great deal of anxiety in public conversation, and polls in recent months suggested mandates would lead to mass firings and resignations among unvaccinated employees.
But that doesn’t seem to have happened so far, and the divide over vaccine mandates may be much smaller than it appears.
When push comes to shove, people have almost all gotten their shots rather than lose their jobs according to available media accounts. Our analysis of news articles about companies who have lost employees shows the numbers who have lost their job appears to be less than 1 percent of the company’s workforce on average. (Spreadsheet available here.)
In conducting this search, we found news accounts of 17 large organizations where resignations or terminations occurred. All but 3 of the organizations experienced under 1 percent turnover due to the requirements, with median turnover at 0.6 percent.
Many news headlines and tweets cite the raw numbers of people who quit with no larger context. A headline from NBC blared, “Nearly 600 United Airlines employees face termination for defying vaccine mandate.” These days, that’s all the fodder needed to launch an online culture war. But the article itself noted the airline employs 67,000 people, meaning just 0.9 percent will actually lose their jobs. That number was later reduced even further, to just 320.
This misleading pattern repeats itself over and over again. Politics is very often the search for the right denominator, and news organizations are failing to highlight the actual level of job losses.
It must be noted there is not a great deal of available data yet and most of what there is focuses on health care systems, where vaccination deadlines have come earlier than for other businesses. But what data there is shows remarkable consistency, and gives no support to the predictions of mass resignations.
We examined recent news articles citing total numbers of employees who have resigned from specific employers. We then found estimates of total employees for each organization to determine the share of employees who actually quit or were terminated.
Some of the alarm circulating through the media came from surveys exploring the potential impact of vaccination mandates. Surveys showed a large slice of unvaccinated workers saying they would rather quit than get the shot. A June Kaiser Family Foundation survey found 42 percent of workers who were unvaccinated at the time said they would keep their jobs, and 50 percent would leave. A Washington Post/ABC poll from September pegged the figure at 42 percent. From what we can see so far, their predictions of their own behavior were not accurate.
Public opinion researchers would be the first to tell you surveys are not perfect when it comes to predicting the future. Even in very low stakes situations, people are not good at predicting their own behavior down the road. In this case, the question about intent to quit over vaccinations is very high stakes. The decision impacts economic well-being, career opportunities, health, family relationships, and more. It is also very likely wrapped up in partisan signaling, given that Republicans have been much more outspoken in their vaccine resistance. With all of these conflicting forces into a respondents’ head at once, it’s not surprising that predictions were misleading.
One thing that remains unknown at this point is the potential impact of religious exemptions. There’s less data on the number of people seeking such exemptions, and the court cases are mostly in their beginning stages. No major organized religion has noted objections to the COVID vaccine.