The big push is on to blame the American Rescue Plan for businesses not being able to find enough workers to fill their jobs. Business owners—restaurant owners in particular—are lining up to tell reporters how those darn lazy workers would rather stay home and collect unemployment than go back to work. Rarely do these stories of employer pain ask questions like, say, how much pay they’re offering or how careful they’re being with their workers’ health in the midst of the pandemic. Stories asking people why they’re hesitating to go back to work are mysteriously not so common.
“People felt abused in the beginning stages of opening back up,” a Washington, D.C., server and bartender told Washington City Paper in one of the few stories that did consider the workers’ side. “It shook people enough to say, ‘I don’t think I want to get back into this.’ If you’re not going to follow protocols and you’re not going to have my back if guests get out of line, what’s the point?”
A woman who bartends as second job in Florida explained to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that she’d seen a lot of people leaving the restaurant industry for other careers “partially due to COVID and the hours changing and not making consistent money.” The people she was talking about had gone into fields like nursing and accounting—but business owners looking for applicants aren’t talking about the people who went elsewhere, they’re talking like everyone is just sitting home.
And about that. People still have kids at home they’re responsible for taking care of, as even this series of employer sob stories from The Wall Street Journal acknowledges. They’re still afraid of contracting COVID-19, because, again, many have experienced bosses who will put their health at risk.
Some of those bosses are the very same ones who are featured in articles wailing about how difficult it is to hire people, as Anne Helen Petersen found: “In Waterville, Ohio, for instance, there’s this sad, sad song about the difficulties finding workers at Dale’s Bar & Grill—which somehow fails to mention that the owner is a Covid hoaxer (he believes that doctors have been falsely labeling deaths as covid-related) and has brazenly violated masking rules, and did not require employees to wear masks.”
Fox News Business interviewed a California restaurant owner who feels aggrieved that his former employees don’t want to come back after “He told them he would only allow them to come back and work full time or the same shift they had before.” That restaurateur was previously seen explaining to the Los Angeles Times why he was defying a shutdown order. Now, with his workers, he’s all “It’s my way or the highway,” and when they choose the highway, he whines about it. I dunno, maybe give people a little flexibility and respect to accommodate their changed lives after 13 months of historic pandemic.
And, yes, there’s a money issue. “Even for unskilled positions” one of the employers who talked to The Wall Street Journal is “offering several dollars over minimum wage.” What largesse! Except he’s not getting many takers so, you know, maybe offer more. Even with the current $300 a week federal supplement to unemployment insurance, 58% of people would earn as much or more at their previous jobs, and frankly, that says more about the jobs than about the people.
Florida provides another dispatch from the “struggling employers” genre, and a high-profile politician—Sen. Marco Rubio—tweeting “Florida small business owners are all telling me the same thing, they can’t find people to fill available jobs. You can come up with all kinds of reasons & wave around all the Ivy League studies you want, but what does common sense tell you is the reason?”
What does common sense tell me is the reason, Marco? Well, the maximum state unemployment benefit is $275 a week, which means that with the extra $300, people are getting $575 a week at most. That means if unemployment is paying more than work, the work is paying less than $14.50 an hour if they’re working full-time—and again, that’s the maximum, and in a state that’s become notorious for delays in unemployment benefits. Most people are probably getting significantly less, and a living wage for a single person with no children is $14.82 an hour in Florida. So I’m thinking that Florida employers need to offer higher pay.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about American capitalism,” Anne Helen Petersen writes, “it’s the skill and swiftness with which it translates resistance into personal, moral failure—which is precisely what so many of these business owners and politicians have done.” Exactly. Workers are saying “enough.” If bosses won’t pay a living wage and respect their workers’ health and safety, people who’ve gutted it out through a year of terror and watching their loved ones get sick and die may not be so willing to come crawling. That’s not a personal failing, and talking like it is shows how bad your values are. Not that it was in any doubt when it came to, say, Marco Rubio.