My take: Get back to work!
Wherever I go in business, whoever I speak to, the conversation inevitably turns to one topic: labour/people. No one can get enough of it and those who do pay through the nose. They have all the power. So I keep asking, “Where have all the people gone?”
At first I thought that those who came from other countries might have returned to their native country when COVID-19 hit and never came back. Then I thought the people doing the work you and I would never want to do would switch jobs and start driving Ubers. I’m beginning to fear it’s as simple as a lack of respect for work and a lack of desire to do it.
A rosy job posting came out of Washington last month, but frankly, they don’t tell you the whole story. In the past two years, millions of Americans have stopped working or even looked for work. Because they don’t look, the U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t count them as unemployed. If they counted, the unemployment rate would now be 5.5% instead of the official figure of 3.6%.
The good news is that 372,000 job openings have been added in the latest jobs report. The bad news is that too few Americans are willing to go back to work. They decided to sit on the couch instead. There are 500,000 fewer people in work today than before the pandemic and 11.3 million unfilled jobs. The employment rate remains well below pre-pandemic levels. What does that mean for the future? Lower productivity per capita, scarcity of goods and services and a lower standard of living for all. Too few people who carry the burden for society as a whole.
The labor participation is 62.3%, down from 63.4% before COVID-19. Retired baby boomers are responsible for part of the decline, but what? Andy Puzner, a former CEO of a restaurant chain, said, “Throughout most of 2021, additional federal unemployment benefits” and other add-ons “paid starters more to stay at home than to go back to work.” That’s why so many restaurants and shops everywhere have had ‘Help Wanted’ signs in their windows. Drive up and down I-75 in Dalton and almost every billboard is decorated with a “We’re Hiring” sign. You can choose your carpet manufacturer; they all want you. The easy answer is to just raise wages, but that will either lead to a drop in profitability or to a rise in prices. (In case you’re wondering where inflation is coming from.)
A June 2021 analysis by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity found that a family of four with two parents out of work earned about $72,000 in unemployment benefits. That’s more than the national median household income. Why work?
Well-being is important to anyone who is unable to work, but it should not replace work for the able-bodied. You grew up taught that you had to work to make money. You didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the perfect job. I learned early on that I had a choice: wait for the Yankees to call or eat. My first job was a messenger – not a batboy. Go figure. Most people in this country don’t like their job. You know what they love? Food and a roof over their heads.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for Obamacare to go into effect and promised it would free people from job lock. They shouldn’t have to work to get medical care at work. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, people could quit their jobs and become poets or whatever they wanted and still have coverage.
I recently read that some politicians in California are pushing for state law to shorten the workweek for employees of large companies to 32 hours. Same pay for fewer hours. One of the bill’s sponsors, Cristina Garcia, argued, “No association has been found between working longer hours and better productivity.” Right. And there’s no correlation between what I see when my mirror looks back at me and my inability to go on a date with a Victoria’s Secret supermodel.
Here’s what I know: America cannot afford to lose its work ethic. Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, and (no surprise) their GDP per capita is also lower. They produce fewer goods and services and have to settle for a lower material standard of living than Americans enjoy, including smaller homes and fewer appliances.
Now GDP in the United States is beginning to fall because too few people are working and too many are on the sidelines. A job is much more than a salary. It’s about dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in the community. I am concerned about the number of working age people who are throwing in the towel and counting on working people to support them. So what’s to blame? Many people think the most recent cause is an excessive expansion of social welfare programs during COVID-19. I’m sure that’s part of it, but there must be more.