WASHINGTON — Quitting your job – all but unheard of during and after the Great Recession – is becoming more common again. That could mean pay raises are coming for more Americans.

The trend has already emerged in the restaurant and retail industries, where quits and pay are rising faster than in the overall economy. Workers in those industries appear to be taking advantage of rising consumer demand to seek better pay elsewhere.

Workers who quit typically do so to take higher-paying jobs. That’s why rising numbers of quits typically signal confidence in the economy and the job market. As the trend takes hold, employers are often forced to offer higher pay to hold on to their staffers or attract new ones.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that the number of people who quit jobs rose 3 percent from December to January to 2.8 million – the most in more than six years. Quits have jumped 17 percent over the past 12 months.

Since the Great Recession ended, the figure has soared. Just 1.6 million people quit their jobs in August 2009, two months after the recession officially ended. That was the fewest for any month in the 14 years that the figures have been tracked.

Quits tend to open up more jobs for the unemployed. One barrier for the jobless in a weak economy is that few workers risk quitting their jobs to take a different one, in part because new hires are often most likely to be laid off.

So most workers stay put, leaving fewer options for college graduates, people recently laid off and others seeking work.

The rising number of quits has begun to affect many larger corporations. Frank Friedman, interim CEO at the consulting and auditing firm Deloitte, says his firm’s clients, which include about 80 percent of the Fortune 500, are increasingly struggling to retain employees.

EMPLOYEES GAIN POWER

“The biggest problem for many businesses is talent retention,” Friedman said. “Wages are a critical component of it. The balance of power has changed in favor of the employee.”

Deloitte itself faces the same challenges. It’s stepping up its hiring, in part because more of its employees have left for other jobs.

The firm plans to add 24,000 people this year, including paid internships, to its staff of 72,000. That’s up from the past several years, when Deloitte typically hired 19,000 to 21,000 people, and the increase is largely to make up for more quits.

The same trend is squeezing the restaurant and hotel industries. Nearly half their workers quit last year, up from about one-third in 2010. And average hourly earnings for restaurant employees rose 3.4 percent in January compared with 12 months earlier.