Tag Archives: labor 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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Why EVERYONE Should Work A Lousy Service Job At Some Point In Their Lives

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Talk to any marginally successful adult, be they high-paid executive or a full-blown celebrity, and chances are they’ve worked at least one lousy job in their life. It’s also likely that said lousy job was a service job. Some may look at those days with a fond sense of humor. Some might still have nightmares about them to this day.

We all had to start somewhere in our professional lives. Some people who are my age may still be behind the curve, struggling to get ahead. To those people, I offer my sympathy and support. To those who worked their way up from the bottom, I have a feeling that what I’m about to say will resonate with you.

That’s because I have worked what most would classify as a menial, low-skill service job. In fact, that menial, low-skill service job happened to be my first job . It was not a fun or enjoyable job, to say the least. There were more bad days than good. However, it was the first time I earned my own money. It was the first time I felt like an adult, to some extent.

It used to be I would look back on that job and shudder. When the memories were still fresh in my mind, I could only focus on how miserable I felt working there. As I’ve gotten older, though, I look back on that job with a sense of pride because I feel it made me a better person in the long run.

It made me appreciate what it felt like to work at the very bottom of the totem pole. It also made me appreciate the people who worked those kinds of jobs for years on end, scraping away at roles that most of us take for granted. It also made me appreciate the people who had to work weekends, night shifts, or holidays. To this day, I go out of my way to thank those people because I’ve been in their position.

It’s because of that experience and the lessons I learned that I believe everyone should work a lousy service job at some point in their lives. Regardless of whether you were born into a rich family or grew up in a one-room shack with no functioning toilet, working a job like that doesn’t just establish someone in the real world where you work for your money. It really builds character, albeit not in everyone.

I know I sound less like an aspiring erotica/romance writer and more like everyone’s dad in saying that, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I certainly heard that from my family, but mine was one that practiced what they preached. Talk to any one of my relatives and you’ll find that all of them have worked a menial job like I did at one point.

I have siblings, parents, and relatives that have worked as low-paid waitresses, bartenders, cashiers, dish washers, and fry cooks. Think of any low-level job you’d see at a restaurant or a fast food place. Chances are, someone in my family has worked a job like that and it shows in the kind of people they become as adults.

I see that within my family and beyond. I see it not just in how they value their work. I see it in how they value the others who do work. When my family goes to a restaurant, we go out of our way to treat the waiter or chef nice if they do a good job. Chances are, if you do your job well with us, we’ll tip you nicely. That was a big deal in my family.

Now, as some of my family members have retired from their careers and settled into a less hectic lifestyle, I still see in them the values that working those jobs gave them. It taught them the value of work and the value of treating people with decency and respect. Look at the stories of how rich, entitled assholes with trust funds have treated people they consider beneath them. These values do matter.

For me, personally, there’s one particular memory that stands out among all others that helped solidify the importance of those values. To recount that memory, though, I have to warn some readers here that this is not a very pleasant memory. If you just ate or have a weak stomach, I would recommend not going any further.

If you’re still with me, then I commend you because this story may hit a little too close to home for some. It happened on one particularly dreary night at my job. This job, fittingly enough, happened to be at a fast food restaurant. Out of concern for legal ramifications, I won’t say which one it was. I’ll just say it’s a very popular chain.

On this dreary night, I was already in a bad mood. I was exhausted, restless, and still in high school. It was not a good set of circumstances. Then, around the early evening, this family came into the restaurant with a baby that couldn’t have been more than nine months old. He was a cute baby, but he was about to make my life feel even uglier.

After the family ordered their food, I was put on sweeping duty. That meant I had to be out there cleaning the tables and emptying the trash. For a job that was already pretty menial, this was as low as you could get. I didn’t think it could get any lower. That baby I mentioned proved me wrong.

Shortly after the family began eating, the baby threw up. No, I don’t mean a cute little spit-up that could be wiped away with a napkin. I’m saying this baby threw up his entire weight in baby vomit. I swear this kid broke the laws of physics with how much bile he spewed. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but I kind of have to in order to get the point across.

Having just cleaned that part of the floor, I was right there to see a big pile of chunky white globs that resembled partially-digested marshmallows. I wish I could tell you how it smelled. Just imagine what it would smell like if roadkill was dipped in expired milk. That should give you a faint idea.

With that disgusting imagery in mind, imagine how I must have felt being the one who had to clean that up. I had to get down on the floor, the baby and his family still sitting at their table, and mop up those chunks of baby vomit. I don’t care that I wore gloves. Touching it nearly made me throw up to.

In terms of low points in my life, that might have been the absolute lowest. I was a teenage kid on the floor of a fast food restaurant, making minimum wage and cleaning up baby vomit. When you’ve been that low in life, it leaves an impact. To this day, I see that moment as the one that motivated me to work to a point where cleaning baby vomit was not in my job description.

I imagine there are plenty of people out there who have similar horror stories about the kinds of jobs they worked. Some of them probably involve something as bad or worse than cleaning up baby vomit on the floor of a fast food restaurant. I would hope that such an experience was just as impactful on them as it was for me.

It’s only when you’re on the floor, cleaning up someone’s vomit for minimum wage that you really know what it’s like to be on the lowest rung of society’s hierarchy. From that state, looking up and seeing how far you have to climb may seem overwhelming. However, you now know just how low you can get and you know that’s not where you want to end up.

I wish I could say I quit after that night, but I didn’t. I ended up working that job until the end of my senior year of high school. I still remember the last day as one of the happiest days of my life to that point. From that point forward, I made it a point to gain experiences and skills that ensured I wouldn’t have to work a menial job like that again.

I’m happy to say I haven’t worked a job like that since, but I still go out of my way to appreciate those who do. Every time I go to a fast food restaurant or see someone working a long shift at a retail store, I feel compelled to thank them. They may not believe it now, but that kind of job will make them a better person in the long run.

That’s not to say you aren’t a good person if you’ve never worked a job like that before. If you haven’t known the feeling and stench of baby vomit, consider yourself lucky. My point is that working lousy jobs and enduring lousy shifts can help make you stronger in ways that you come to appreciate as you get older.

As much as I shudder at the memory/stench of that baby vomit, I’m glad I had that experience. It helped shape me into the kind of man I am today and I believe it reveals in others just how strong and/or resilient they can be. Given how much we rely on menial service jobs, I think we should all appreciate them and the people who work them.

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