A recent headline blared: “Labor shortages end when wages rise.”
Gosh, Captain Obvious, what an amazing discovery! Someone notify the Nobel Prize committee, for surely this revolutionary revelation will win this year’s prize in economics. Better yet, someone notify that gaggle of Republican governors whose theory of labor economics begins and ends with the medieval demand that workers be whacked with a stick to make them do what the bosses want.
Business chieftains wail that they’ve been advertising thousands of jobs for waiters, poultry workers, nursing assistants and such, but they can’t get enough takers. So, corporate-serving governors have rushed to their rescue. Shouting “Whack ’em with a stick,” these mingy politicians are stripping away jobless benefits, trying to force workers to take any crappy job they’re offered. It gives new meaning to the term “workforce.”
At a recent congressional hearing on the so-called “labor shortage,” megabanker Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase offered this insight: “People actually have a lot of money, and they don’t particularly feel like going back to work.”
Uh... Jamie... most people are living paycheck to paycheck, and since COVID-19 hit, millions have lost their jobs, savings and even homes. So, they’re not exactly lollygagging around the house, counting their cash.
Instead of listening to the uber-rich class ignorance of Dimon (who pocketed $35 million in pay last year), Congress ought to be listening to actual workers explain why they’re not rushing back to the jobs being offered by restaurant chains, nursing homes, Big Ag and other low-wage employers. They would point out that there is no labor shortage — there’s a wage shortage.
More fundamentally, there’s a fairness shortage. It was not lost on restaurant workers, for example, that while millions of them were jobless last year, their corporate CEOs were grabbing millions, buying yachts and living large. Yet, more than half of laid-off restaurant workers couldn’t even get unemployment benefits, because their wages had been too low to qualify. Then there’s the high risk of COVID exposure for restaurant employees, no affordable child care, an appalling level of sexual harassment in their workplace, and demeaning treatment from abusive bosses and customers.
No surprise, then, that more than half of employees said in a recent survey that they’re not going back to those jobs. After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked!
But wait, there’s an honest way to get the workers employers need: Offer fair wages! As the owner of a small chain of restaurants in Atlanta noted, when he stopped lowballing wages he not only got the workers he needed, but “We started to get a better quality of applicants.” That translated to better service, happier customers, and more business.
The real economic factor in play here is not wages, but value. If you treat employees as cheap, that’s what you’ll get. But if you view them as valuable assets, that’s what they’ll be — and you’ll all be better off.
For a straightforward view from workers themselves, go to the advocacy group, OneFairWage.site.