It may be time to re-evaluate America’s outdated labor culture


Courtesy/James Lacefield

Even our own Davison Hall is not unaffected by the national labor shortage.

Jason Burns, Crier Staff

All around the nation, businesses, schools, and hospitals are suffering from short-staffing due to a labor shortage the likes of which has never been seen before. According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 10.1 million job openings were recorded in June. If so many jobs are available, why aren’t unemployed Americans flocking to them? The answer lies in the treatment of millions of workers at dead-end jobs and a re-evaluation of priorities as a result of the pandemic. The labor shortage isn’t a result of unemployment benefits offered by the federal government as Republicans might suggest; rather, it is the result of a market flooded with jobs that offer no future and pitiful pay. The labor shortage is an opportunity to restructure American work culture to value the individual over an endless march from one dead end job to another to make ends meet.

In an attempt to entice Americans back to work, many companies have increased their wages; for example, Bank of America has promised to raise its minimum wage to $25 per hour by 2025, McDonald’s entry level wages will start from $11 to $17 per hour, and Target, which  implemented a $15 per hour minimum in June. Even with pay raises, it has not been enough to entice workers. Better wages will not solve the issues of poor treatment, lack of upward mobility, and exposure to COVID faced in many service jobs. There is no future in flipping burgers or manning a register, and having to deal with irate customers and the potential for infection is something workers are understandably reluctant to go back to. It will take more than a pay raise to bring Americans back into the job market, and the pandemic has given people a chance to seek better opportunities for themselves that involve more than living paycheck to paycheck.

This labor shortage is not seen as an opportunity by everyone. Republicans have blamed the shortage on unemployment benefits offered by the federal government. In twenty-five Republican-led states, the $300 weekly supplement was ended over the course of the summer ahead of the original September 6 deadline, cutting off around 3.7 million workers according to an analysis of Labor Department data. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN), the Republican Leader for the Ways and Means Worker and Family Support Subcommittee, blamed the shortage on “the government paying people to stay at home, more money than they would make if they got back in the workforce.” If staying at home to collect unemployment makes more than taking up a job in a service industry, then the problem lies with the payment and treatment of workers.

  How much one can collect in unemployment varies from state to state, but in New Hampshire the maximum weekly benefit from unemployment is $427. Even with the $300 supplement (which ended in New Hampshire on June 19) the amount would not be enough to live comfortably; however, it may allow lower-class workers some much desired flexibility in their already tight finances. If an unemployed New Hampshire resident were to collect the maximum benefit of $727 during the pandemic, they would only have been making about $13 per hour for a forty hour week. Trying to balance necessary expenses such as housing, food, transportation, clothing, and medical costs on such a budget is not a case of Americans taking advantage of government aid, but a breath of relief that these things may be afforded without the concern of injury or infection at work.

The pandemic has made clear that the individual is not valued in the workplace. Frontline workers have been hailed as “heroes” but have hardly been treated as such. Insignificant pay along with a neglect to address worker safety by employers has caused a mass re-evaluation of priorities. Better pay has failed to attract Americans back to work because working a job with no future just to pay the bills is not a meaningful life. Not only is better pay a requirement to encourage people to get back to work, but better career advancement opportunities, benefits, family leave plans, and options for working remotely in applicable positions.