How many times have you heard that phrase in the last couple of years? I’m guessing too many to count. It seems like everywhere you go today places having ‘now hiring’ signs in the windows and are asking you to be patient because they are short-staffed. It’s not uncommon to wait to be seated at a restaurant while there are numerous open tables or get caught in a long check-out line because there is only one cashier available. You can pretty much guarantee that every time you are in one of these situations, someone in your group or around you points out that the business is short-staffed and utters the insightful phrase, “Nobody wants to work anymore.”
My response to that question will always remain the same, has anyone ever wanted to work? While I have been lucky to enjoy my career, and even the multiple jobs I had while in high school and college, I don’t ever recall waking up and ever wanting to work. In fact, many businesses where we encounter issues with staffing issues are in the retail, restaurant, or entertainment venues. Places most of us go to get away from and take our minds off work or from having to prepare our own meals. In short, nobody really wants to work. That is why I cannot stand these implied blanket statements about people being lazy and abusing the system.
Before I dive into that, let me go through some numbers. According to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor in December 2021, the current unemployment rate is 3.9%, which is almost identical to the historical pre-pandemic lows in 2020. What that means is that people who want work, generally, are not having a hard time finding work. So does that mean that people aren’t looking for work?
That is quite possible. One of the benefits from having such a strong economy over the past decade has been that people have more money in their pockets. Factor in some of the pandemic relief that families received, and potential workers are now not in quite as much of a rush to get a job. People can take more time between jobs or simply decide not to work for a while. Job resignations reached an all-time high in 2021, as people simply are getting more particular about where they work and what kind of work they want to do. Can you blame anyone if they have the ability to choose the option to wait to find a job they enjoy and is more personally satisfying, while meeting their financial needs? I am going to assume that the person who preaches about getting an education, saving money, working hard, and making good financial choices does all of that so it presents better options to get the type of job and career that you find most desirable. So why do so many people in that position want to cast judgement on others for trying to do the same?
For many years, our society has looked at certain jobs as status symbols and stepping stones. Long running allusions often refer to rocket scientists and flipping burgers as the opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to work skills. However, if the rocket scientist could make as much money flipping burgers as they could…doing whatever they do…would we cast judgement on them for choosing a job that provides more personal enjoyment and financial stability? We have somehow developed this idea in our society that people that work certain jobs aren’t worth the same level of social status, and more importantly, financial status as others that have gone to school and work at a “stressful, highly-skilled” job. Yet, people who earn a healthy living driving trucks or working in factories are spared the burger flipping status jokes. All of these jobs are essential to our society and the lifestyles we enjoy.
So let’s take a look at some of those “low-skilled”, low paying jobs. These are typically the short-staffed jobs that cause us grief when we want to go out and relax or quickly get in and out of a store. According to statista.com, in 2021 47.6% of minimum wage workers were between the ages of 16-24 years old. Couple those numbers with the fact that teenagers that are working is at an all-time low, and that might explain why so many places have a help wanted sign prominently displayed.
I guess that means that we’re all doomed because this young generation doesn’t want to work. Maybe some people will come to that snap judgement, but I’ll push back with the argument that most teenagers aren’t working because they don’t have the time. Since 2000, the number of teenagers working went from 50% to 33%, and the biggest reason given was because of increased demands for academic performance to get into colleges and time commitments to athletics. Older generations can dispute this all they want, but teenagers and parents of teenagers can attest that in the world of everybody gets an “A” and everybody gets a trophy, the time required to separate yourself from the competition has drastically risen.
In the past, colleges would often times look at a student’s GPA and college entrance scores to determine who they were going to admit. However, as GPA’s have become inflated due to less rigorous academic expectations by schools and college entrance tests being minimized, students are having to find other ways to stand out on paper amongst their peers. This often requires joining clubs or supplementing free time with other school related activities that cut into previous opportunities teenagers had to work. High school athletes no longer have an offseason, which makes finding jobs for teenagers that play sports extremely difficult. Even if they can find a job, their work schedules are extremely limited. The simple fact is that employers cannot and should not rely on jobs being filled by teenagers like they were in previous decades. Especially when you factor in that most families are doing well financially from the previous decade, so the need for teens to work and help support their families is significantly lower than in previous years.
Let’s look at another eye-opening statistic. As of December 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor there were 6.3 million people unemployed and 10.56 million job openings in the United States. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, see what I did there, to see that we are in a labor crisis in our country. Quite simply, we have more jobs than people looking for jobs, even if you want to factor in people that may not technically be considered unemployed because they are not actively seeking work. The trickle down effect of this is that places that held higher requirements in order to qualify for a job and paid higher salaries are now accepting and hiring people that previously would not have qualified. The further ripple effect is that the jobs that pay the least, with the worst hours, and the least reward are now even less desirable than ever because better jobs are more easily obtainable. I’m pretty sure if your boss offered you more money with slightly better hours, benefits, and no additional education required you would be looking for the hidden cameras before jumping at the opportunity. More importantly, if another employer was doing the same thing, you can see now why resignations are at an all time high and employee loyalty is at an all time low.
Could this be a reflection of the younger generations mindset? Possibly, but they are simply taking advantage of the economy that has been created by our society and corporate greed. If businesses know that there is a labor shortage, why are they still operating and expanding like they did before? The reason oil prices and construction costs have skyrocketed has little to do with politics and more to do with supply and demand. The economy was so good for so long that those at the top are trying to get every penny into their pockets. When there is a labor shortage and employees demanding better wages because of a lack of supply, it is the consumer that pays the ultimate price. Quite simply, companies are being forced to pay employees more to attract them.
That is why I get tired of people using the political rhetoric of both parties to justify ignorant and simplistic statements and observations. We have not created a lazy nation through politics. Increased hand-held technology that produces immediate satisfaction and endorphins, along with sky-rocketing workplace automation is doing just fine at creating that culture. Quite simply, we have become a society that expects to get what we want almost immediately and with as little discomfort as possible. That has certainly trickled down to our younger workers who fulfill a lot of service jobs, but that has also led to an increased attack on service workers.
Teachers, police officers, servers, and retail workers are all under attack like never before because of the reasons above. We live in a society that expects everything to be catered to us, and when people that are perceived to be working for you don’t readily comply or meet your immediate needs without fitting into your idealistic views they get attacked and accused of not doing their jobs like they should be. I will digress before I get too far down this track.
However, I want to close things out with this. I work with people every day that are making an effort to go back as an adult to get their high school diploma. They do this because they want to better themselves and live a life with more comforts. They are not getting that life by not working or by living off the government. They often do this while they are already working to support themselves and their kids. They are often working the jobs that we look down on and complain about being short-staffed. They make that choice because living off what the government can or will provide in assistance is not enough to live a life the majority of people in our country could fathom. They make personal sacrifices and often work twice as hard to make ends meet and better themselves than most of the people who sit in judgement ever have. They are not lazy. They are not sitting at home living off the government. Those that live that life know how difficult it is and would welcome you to switch places with them. That is why I get so upset with people that use politics and blanket statements to assess situations. I try not to get political, as both parties and government have failed people in need. I would really like for anyone who strongly disagrees with me to come with me to work for a few days and get to know the people I know. It’s a little different when you have a face, a name, and a story that goes against the blanket statement that people are lazy, people want to live off the government, and nobody wants to work anymore. I think exposing people to the realities some face in our society will really change a lot of perspectives on things, but then again, that might require some people to work harder than they really want to in order to uncover the truth.
For every person that we can uncover utilizing the government and any assistance for their benefit to truly avoid working, I’m sure we could find a millionaire doing the same thing with government loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Is one smarter than the other? Is one lazier than the other? Well, that’s an entirely different debate. All I hope is that we can all avoid making blanking statements about people and society without educating ourselves a bit and blindly following political ideologies.