Record numbers of Americans quit jobs. Here’s how Tampa Bay locals did it.

Many say the pandemic created conditions that made jobs worse, and their time without income easier.
Owner and Spa Director Kimberly Blackmon, 35, poses for a portrait at Glowmour Beauty Medispa in Tampa.
Owner and Spa Director Kimberly Blackmon, 35, poses for a portrait at Glowmour Beauty Medispa in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 7, 2021|Updated Dec. 10, 2021

A record 4.4 million people quit U.S.-based jobs in September, breaking the previous record set just a month earlier when 4.3 million quit in what has been dubbed The Great Resignation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to release numbers for October on Wednesday.

That record-breaking September saw 279,000 Floridians quit, at a rate slightly higher than the U.S. average. Some had another job lined up. Some did not. Some said they were pushed by working conditions created by the pandemic and were buoyed by federal stimulus money and other relief.

The Times spoke with six Tampa Bay residents to learn how they quit.

Related: Americans give bosses same message in record numbers: I quit

Jess Duck, 33, Port Richey, food truck operator

When the pandemic struck, Duck had been a chef at a tavern in Pittsburgh for three years. When that restaurant reopened after a shutdown, Duck said things were never quite the same. There was more work due to new standards and restrictions, and less staff to do it.

She felt like she was doing the work of five people while making the same money as before and dealing with grumpier customers.

“It took the pandemic and a lot of people treating people badly for me to finally be like, enough is enough,” she said.

She quit in the early summer with plans to pursue her dream of opening Bird’s House Catering Co., a mobile bakery specializing in cheesecakes and pastas. Her family had saved every penny of their stimulus checks — more than $11,000 — and invested that along with a large chunk of their savings into a concession trailer and truck.

Duck’s spouse, who works in information technology, covered the family’s expenses for the months she had no income. Since he can work remotely, the couple and their two children moved to Pasco County. Duck said it was more affordable, and the food truck business doesn’t have to contend with icy winters that drive customers indoors.

“So far,” she said, “it has worked out beautifully.”

Donna Ester, 65, St. Petersburg, licensed practical nurse

The first job Ester quit this year was in January, when she left a physicians conglomerate where she’d worked as a nurse for several years, fed up with “management issues” amid a staffing shortage.

“They piled on more and more, next thing you know you’re doing the work of four people,” she said. “And they can’t afford to let anyone go, so you end up picking up the slack if others don’t do their jobs.”

She quit with six other nurses in her department, she said, and about 30 in the building. “A mass exodus.”

Ester was confident she’d find something else. She has 13 years of experience, and an industrywide nursing shortage worsened during the pandemic. There are multiple factors, but aging baby boomers are requiring more care just as many nurses are hitting retirement age. Florida is projected to be short 59,100 nurses by 2035, according to a 2021 report commissioned by two Florida hospital associations.

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“Even if an individual employer doesn’t realize your worth,” she said, “we know our worth.”

Related: Florida will be short nearly 60,000 nurses by 2035, report says

Ester landed at a hospice, but found a similar situation — people kept quitting, and she kept taking on their work. On top of her regular duties, she was doing 50 swabs a day for COVID-19 tests. She quit in September.

She only stayed that long to appease the bank. She was in the middle of refinancing the home where she lives with her two dogs, in order to lower her payments.

Now she’s back at her original job, where she says all the issues were cleared up. “It’s wonderful, and had we not all stood up and left, those changes probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Maria Buffaloe, 31, St. Petersburg, receptionist

Buffaloe spent 11 years working as a server in restaurants around Tampa Bay.

She’d just started at a regional chain’s new outpost in Riverview in March 2020 when things were shut down. They went forward with training as they waited to open, and at first, “it was fun, like an away camp, with a bunch of misfit souls who were trauma bonding over the situation.”

Things changed, she said, after the reopening in May 2020. Some customers were angry over mask rules. Buffaloe said one threw a drink on her. She learned some employees had contracted COVID-19 in the following months, but said the rest of the staff were never informed.

“It was a job I loved so much for so long, because I’m a people person,” she said, “but COVID and the restaurant’s response to it crushed my soul.”

When her partner offered to cover their expenses until she found something new, she quit in July this year. The Department of Education’s pause on student loan payments and interest through 2021 helped her decide, she said.

She found a new job as a receptionist at a custom closet company. “It’s the first time I’ve ever had benefits in my life,” she said. “Until now, I’ve just actively tried not to die.”

Timothy “Jack” Michael, 34, Pinellas Park, solar sales

After getting into a serious relationship and becoming a father, Michael said he was looking to get out of the “vice industry.”

He’d spent the past couple of years managing Bottoms Up Gentlemen’s Club in Pinellas Park.

“I met some great people, and it can be fun and pay really well,” he said, “but that industry can be stressful on your relationship.”

Emboldened by everything he’d been hearing about how many places were hiring, and his own experience with staffing the club — “I was always looking for DJs, and all they have to do is stand around all day and look at naked girls, and it was still difficult” — he quit in October.

“I felt like right now was the best opportunity, and it might be now or never.”

He’d also heard some desperate employers might be more willing to consider people with a record. Michael spent seven years in prison for a drug offense and was released in 2016. Prior to that, he’d worked in software.

Finding a new job wasn’t as easy as he’d expected.

“What I found,” he said, “was a lot of places looking to hire into bad situations where they’re short-staffed.”

Money from his small savings and his partner’s income helped him get by until he took a job in late November doing sales for a home solar panel company. It’s not exactly what he’d planned for, but he likes having the ability to earn more based on his performance.

Kimberly Blackmon, 35, Tampa, aesthetician

Blackmon had worked as a human resources and benefits specialist for a large furniture retailer for three years.

With her skin care side-hustle growing, she’d been plotting her eventual exit, but said the pandemic both upended plans and created opportunities.

“First, it slowed things down,” since she couldn’t see clients in person, “but then it speeded them up. … The goals I outlined for my business for five years I did in less than two.”

Blackmon pulled money out of her 401(k) to invest in her Glowmour Beauty Medispa — a decision she made due to a provision in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that allowed her to avoid an early withdrawal penalty.

She took classes and got certified in electrolysis, allowing her to offer more expensive services.

Meanwhile, Blackmon found the way the furniture retailer handled the pandemic “eye-opening.” She was tasked with informing furloughed employees who were not being paid that they’d need to come up with large premium payments or be kicked off their company insurance. “I went in the bathroom and cried,” she said.

She also felt like the company downplayed instances of employees testing positive for COVID-19. And because the company relied on paper records, she said, office staff couldn’t work remotely. “It was never people first there,” she said, “but this really exposed it.” She quit last December.

She was single and living alone when she quit. Her biggest expense was the mortgage on an East Tampa home she’d purchased in 2020, and she’d been saving income she received as a disabled veteran.

Blackmon said her last job taught her what not to do as an employer. She now has three employees and a contractor working out of Glowmour’s new 2,200-foot space in Seminole Heights. So far, she’s making less money, “but it’s worth the peace of mind and no moral conflict.”

Monika Kobeszko, 46, St. Petersburg, photo booth operator

Monika Kobeszko left a job with a retail chain after 21 years in 2021.
Monika Kobeszko left a job with a retail chain after 21 years in 2021. [ Courtesy of Monika Kobeszko ]

After 21 years at a large home improvement retailer, Kobeszko felt she’d earned some cachet.

So she was surprised that upon moving to St. Petersburg last year, she had to reapply and reinterview. She took a position, no longer in management, at $13, an hourly rate she made a decade ago.

“It was so low that I was disgusted, but I’d drank the company Kool-Aid,” she said, “and I loved working there and with customers.”

She also needed the insurance. “I have a kid under 18 and he likes riding bikes and I thought, ‘If he breaks his arm again it’s going to be very expensive.’ ”

She did the job for a year, but as retailers struggled to find workers, she felt standards dropped.

Feeling more like an unknown, undervalued cog in a large corporate machine, she took a leave of absence in May after her spouse found a job in insurance that would be enough to cover their expenses. She never returned.

Kobeszko and her spouse didn’t have many monthly bills to worry about. They’d sold a home in north Florida that allowed them to buy a smaller condo in St. Pete and pay off their cars.

Now Kobeszko is focused on growing her mobile photo booth business, Monika’s Mirror Booth. If she books three or four events a month, she about matches her old pay, but has far more free time.