Tag Archives: job market

Rethinking Jobs And Business: How Pandemics And Relief Benefits May Change Both

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The world is always changing. That’s the only constant.

Sometimes, it changes more rapidly and chaotically than usual. That tends to happen a lot when major events transpire, such as a once-in-a-generation pandemic that infected millions and shut down entire countries. I hope I don’t have to belabor that to anyone with a news feed for the past year.

At the same time, these kinds of rapid upheavals can get us thinking harder about things we tend not to question. I’m not just talking about how much we take our health, our infrastructure, and our essential workers for granted. I’m referring to bigger concepts about how we approach life, society, and how we structure our lives.

One area that seems to be getting more scrutiny lately is how we approach jobs, work, and careers. I’ve certainly given it more thought, mostly in terms of the impacts of telework and how I used my stimulus check. I suspect many others have contemplated these topics in new ways in wake of recent events.

Now, as the pandemic nears its end, some of those concepts are already manifesting in the real world. One effect, in particular, has been especially jarring in America, mostly for reasons that other industrialized countries may find laughable. It has to do with people not wanting to work for a lousy, unlivable wage.

I know that shouldn’t be such a radical concept, but it is and as a proud American, I find it infuriating. There’s no getting around it. The ages for the average, non-CEO American have been stagnant for decades. It’s an issue that has been festering since long before the pandemic and even before I was born.

Before the pandemic swept in, there was an ongoing debate on whether the minimum wage should be increased to $15 nationally. I won’t get too heavily into the politics and talking points behind it, mostly because it ultimately descends into cycle of speculation and fallacies. I’ll just say that the pandemic has complicated that debate in unexpected ways.

During the height of the pandemic, the economy was basically shut down. Suddenly, millions were out of work and businesses had to shut down. Many still haven’t fully recovered. A big reason why many didn’t starve to death or end up on the streets was because of government relief packages, which included extended unemployment benefits.

While America’s relief package wasn’t nearly as generous as other countries, it was certainly better than nothing. I know plenty of people who genuinely needed that relief to stay afloat in terms of paying bills and feeding their families. It’s also not unreasonable to say that this was a critical measure in terms of preventing the pandemic from getting even worse.

However, this effort revealed something remarkable. According to a study done last year, the unemployment benefits that many workers received was actually better than their previous wages. It wasn’t an insignificant chunk of the work force, either. The benefits were greater for approximately 68 percent of American workers.

What does that say about the wages we’re paying our workers?

Moreover, what does that say about the system in general that workers can make more by not working than they would if they were?

Something about that doesn’t add up, literally and conceptually. I get that this was an unprecedented situation. At the same time, it reveal something about how we see work and workers. It’s something businesses are starting to realize too.

As the country and the world opens up, new job opportunities are arising. That’s good news for those who have been out of work. Unfortunately, those same businesses are having a hard time filling those positions.

The jobs are there.

The workers are there.

They just aren’t gravitating towards one another.

Here’s a brief rundown of the situation, courtesy of NPR. If you haven’t been working or are lucky enough to have kept your job during the pandemic, it should offer some insight and perspective.

NPR: Millions Are Out Of A Job. Yet Some Employers Wonder: Why Can’t I Find Workers?

At a time when millions of Americans are unemployed, businessman Bill Martin has a head-scratching problem: He’s got plenty of jobs but few people willing to take them.

“I keep hearing about all the unemployed people,” Martin says. “I certainly can’t find any of those folks.”

Martin helps run M.A. Industries, a plastics manufacturing company in Peachtree City, Ga. The company makes products used in the medical industry — specifically, in things like coronavirus tests and vaccine manufacturing and development.

But as he struggles to keep up with demand, Martin is finding it almost impossible to find new workers.

As someone who has worked his share of lousy, low-paying jobs, I can’t say I’m surprised by this. Don’t get me wrong. I still feel for the business owners who need workers to keep things going. I just can’t forget how arduous it was, working hard at a job that paid so little and left me so exhausted at the end of the day.

If the alternative is staying home and collecting unemployment, which ultimately pays more, then the choice is easy. That’s especially true for those who have kids or relatives they need to take care of. It’s not that they’re lazy, as some overpaid pundits love pointing out. It’s just that the nature of these jobs aren’t that appealing, especially when the pay is so low.

If anything, this situation has inspired us all to take a step back and look at how we approach work, jobs, careers, and business. When you think about it, it’s a little distressing that we build so much of our lives around work. It’s not just something we do out of obligation and responsibility. Many literally have to work in order to survive.

Is that right?

Is that just?

Is that healthy for society as a whole?

I say this as someone who has been lucky enough to have jobs that I’ve both loved and hated. I know what it’s like to work for a business that you hate. I also know what it’s like to have a job you find genuinely fulfilling. Not everyone is that lucky. In fact, I suspect the vast majority of the population, even in America, never experience that luck.

I get that there are economic reasons why some businesses can’t pay their employees high wages. I’ve worked in fast food restaurants. I know the profit margins aren’t exactly large. I also know that, even when I could make more than minimum wage, it was rarely enough to live on. That’s not even factoring the physical toll some of this work takes.

Despite that toll, there was still an undeniable stigma to those who didn’t work or those who simply avoided low paying jobs. In America, it’s a direct extension of that old protestant work ethic that equates moral worth with a willingness to do backbreaking labor for minimal pay. I’m not saying that work ethic is wrong, but I do think it needs to be re-evaluated.

The pandemic suddenly gave people an option on whether or not they wanted to do these kinds of low-paying jobs. Many understandably opt to just collect unemployment. They may not live luxuriously, but they will live. In some cases, they’re even better off.

It may be a sign of things to come. I already speculated on how the pandemic relief bills could be a precursor to a universal basic income. Now that people have experienced life in which their survival isn’t directly tied to having a low-paying job, I think it’ll be difficult to back.

I also think that’s a good thing. Regardless of how you feel about minimum wages, work ethic, or running a business, I think it’s generally a positive trend that we’re starting to decouple work with the right to survive. I think it’s a trend that has to happen, especially as automation does more and more of the low-skilled labor traditionally done by human workers.

It’s true. Some people are lazy and don’t like to work. Some people are just so driven and incapable of not working. Both still deserve to live without needed a job to keep them from starving to death or losing their home. As bad as this pandemic has been, I sincerely hopes it inspires us to rethink how we structure our society. There is a better way of doing things. We should always strive to do things better. Sometimes, that means rethinking everything we’ve come to believe about work, business, and life in general.

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My Advice To The Class Of 2019

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This is a wonderful time of year. It’s not just because the summer heat is rolling in, the pools are opening, and ice cream is even more refreshing. For a select handful of young people, it’s the finish line that once seemed so far. At long last, graduation day has arrived. High school is ending. The last pit stop on your way to adulthood is finally behind you.

I know those in college are just as excited, but I would argue that high school graduation is more meaningful. For many kids in their late teens, it’s the first major milestones of their adult life. Finally, the legally required schooling and the rigid structure surrounding it has been fulfilled. Now, they can finally make their own choices about their future.

It’s exciting, scary, nerve-racking, and overwhelming, even for those who have fond memories of high school. I consider those people lucky. I certainly wasn’t one of them. I’ve gone on record as saying that I hated high school. It seems like the older I get, the more reasons I find to justify that hatred.

Some of that experience was my fault. I was an all-around miserable teenager, for the most part. It’s not just that I’m terrible at standardized tests and endured more than a few awkward moments. For me, the entire high school experience felt like one big personal setback. What I learned didn’t feel useful. The skills I really needed were never offered or emphasized.

I suspect others, including a few about to graduate, feel the same way. They’re probably the most eager to put high school behind them and nobody would blame them. To them, I can only offer reassurance and confidence.

It will get better. I know that sounds like bumper sticker philosophy, but it’s true. Life after high school, however miserable it might have been, does get better. Sometimes, it gets better the second after graduation because everything afterwards feels like an improvement. You still have to put in the effort, but it’s definitely worth doing. I can personally attest to that.

However, I don’t just want to speak to those who hated high school, nor do I want to overlook those who had it far worse than me. To those who thrived, grew, and matured over the course of their formative years, this is for you too. To everyone who navigated this strange and chaotic time of their youth, I’d like to offer my perspective and it can be summed up in one simple statement.

The world is an amazing place and you haven’t experienced a fraction of it.

That’s not a criticism. It’s not meant to undercut everything you’ve learned in during your high school education, either. I tell you this to remind you that you’re still young. You’ve been on this ever-evolving world for less than two decades. Look how much has changed in that brief span of time. Can you begin to imagine how much it’ll change two decades from now?

You’re part of that change. It won’t just happen around you. It’ll happen through you. You’re not just kids anymore. By the letter of the law and by the growth you’ve had to this point, you are young adults. You will have a say in how this change manifests. It may not be as large or as small as you prefer, but you will have an influence. At this critical junction of your lives, that’s worth celebrating.

Now, you’re going to hear all sorts of uplifting and encouraging messages in the coming weeks. You’ll also hear a few that are cynical and jaded. At this very moment, you can find excuses to believe that the world is going to Hell and it’s dragging you along for the ride. You can just as easily find excuses to believe the world is getting better and you’ll be among the beneficiaries.

There’s enough information out there to justify any opinion. I’m not going to tell you which you should embrace, but I will urge you to choose your attitude wisely. If you learn nothing else from the encouragements and platitudes of graduation, I hope you learn this. Your choices matter and so does your attitude. It will depend on how you experience the world moving forward.

Make no mistake. There’s a lot to experience. Whether you’re going to college, pursuing a trade, joining the military, or entering the workforce, you have an vast world before you. That world is going to challenge you. At times, it’s going to hurt. You’re going to feel offended, angry, and lost. It’s unavoidable in a world that’s so chaotic, unfair, and complex.

At the same time, it’s full of excitement, wonder, and mystery. Your understanding of the world right now will change and grow immensely in the coming years. You’ll realize how wrong you were about some things and how right you were about others. In the process, you’ll see just how much more there is to experience.

It’ll change you.

It’ll inspire you.

It’ll excite you.

Every generation likes to believe that theirs is the most important in history. While it may seem self-serving, it’s not entirely wrong. That’s because your generation is here. You’re alive now during these incredible times. You’re about to venture into this amazing world in search of your own experiences. That makes your lives, your choices, and your futures all the more impactful.

There’s only so much anyone can offer in terms of advice that every graduating senior can use. My high school experience was unique, as was all of yours. Even if you forget your ability to pass a standardized test or finish an essay at two in the morning, there are some lessons from high school that are worth carrying forward.

For one, don’t limit your perspective. Never assume you or anyone around you has all the answers. Few things in this world adhere to expectations or ideals. There will always be insights, surprises, and revelations that shatter your pre-conceived notions.

Second, embrace the bigger, scarier world before you and its flaws. Your limited life experiences make everything seem daunting. At times, you’ll want to run and hide from it. I encourage you to be bold and run towards it. With the inescapable bad comes the incredibly good. It’s worth experiencing and it’ll show you who you really are.

Finally, don’t feel like you have to go it alone. In the grand scheme of things, it’s easy to feel small. It’s also easy to feel like you have to chart your own path and relying on others is a crutch. I promise you that notion is false. Other people aren’t a liability. They’re a strength that you can and should channel, wherever your lives take you.

We’re all in this together. Young or old, we all inhabit the same world. We all work, struggle, and connect to find our place in it. I like to think I’ve forged an interesting, but meaningful path in my journey. Yes, there are things I wish I had done differently. No, I don’t agonize over them, nor should you.

All that said, I welcome you, the graduating class of 2019, into this amazing world. Today, you’ve taken the first step in a much larger journey. I can’t promise you much, but I will say this. It’s a journey worth taking.

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