The so-called “worker shortage” needs to have a new label, along with a clearer perspective. In too many ways, that “explanation” often comes down to blaming the victim, with its sense that people who are unemployed are lazy.
Not that those bandying the charge would accept the conditions of those “help wanted” positions. You know, the “entry-level” openings that are really no-respect, dead-end drudgery and require “reliable transportation” on late nights and weekends at minimum wage. Sorry, it doesn’t add up.
Or the plight of the long-haul independent truckers who are burdened by the costs of their rigs and the long hours away from their homes and families. As many of them age, they’re hanging it up and nobody’s stepping into the trap. Well, that’s one aspect of the “supply-chain problems” we’re encountering.
And then we should also admit the number of people who are simply unemployable today, sometimes for medical, mental, or emotional conditions.
What we’re seeing is a confluence of long-simmering problems finally erupting in the aftermath of Covid.
The health-care system is a prime example, far more complicated than we dare get into here. But Europe seems to train its doctors at less cost and in less time than we do in the USA, and there are arguments that primary-care physicians are capable of delivering much that we’re turning over to costly specialists. Much of the staff, meanwhile, has minimal health benefits, if any.
Wages adjusted for inflation have been declining for decades.
Breaking the unions has been a factor, along with company expectations of 24/7 availability plus worker loyalty without extending reciprocal security.
Keeping stores open seven days a week, by the way, is a relatively new custom. It does add to the low-pay “help wanted” slots.
At the core, what workers are selling is their time is exchange for something, not all of it money. They’re finding that many jobs aren’t worth the cost to them once child care, transportation, clothing, and the like are factored in.
There’s also the trap of being pitted against lower paid labor elsewhere (not just China) without reaping any of the profits from higher productivity here, which has been ballooning in the wealth of the superrich but definitely not trickling down.
One of the surprises has been the number of workers in their 50s who have been dropping out, especially males. Perhaps they’re working on their own “under the table,” but many have simply “had it” with the drag. Work, from what I’ve too often seen, no longer earns any respect. And the traditional work ethic carries an unwritten requirement of being paid a livable wage in exchange. Again, it’s not adding up.
Has anyone connected crackdowns on undocumented residents and their being deported with the shortages? These were the invisible workforce that was sustaining so much of the economy. As I was saying about respect?
Posts on my Chicken Farmer blog examine work and jobs in much more detail from a personal level.
From that perspective, I’d say we’re encountering a free-market reaction to low pay and unrewarding employment situations. This one-by-one, “disorganized labor” job action will be much more difficult to address than the traditional sitting down at a negotiating table and emerging with a new contract.
Is anybody even talking about the big picture here? I’d like to know.