With “Help Wanted” and “Now Hiring” posters plastered across storefront windows, many politicians are now blaming the workers themselves, in a tired, old tirade about the new generation and their poor work ethic. This simplistic argument that blames workers for their inability to earn a living wage has finally expired, with the post-pandemic economy forcing people to reevaluate their priorities.
The effects are certainly being felt by many. Almost 40% of Popeyes restaurants have closed their dining rooms, 51% of small businesses have adjusted their hours to accommodate staffing and fast food places across the country are closing early. The refusal to increase benefits and wages has caused a national labor shortage, with the burden falling on the backs of the younger generation.
In the past year, 4.3 million Americans have quit their jobs, the highest quit rate since 2000. Many people assumed that after the pandemic, numbers would return to normal; however, after expanded benefits ended, workers did not return.
A survey done by Black Box Intelligence in August of this year has shown that poor treatment of workers is responsible for this shortage, with 62% of workers in the restaurant industry citing emotional abuse or disrespect from customers and 15% citing sexual harassment.
Demographic changes across the nation could also be to blame. In the past decade, the retired population has increased from 15% to 20%, and people are choosing to have fewer kids, later in life. The war on immigration in the past few years has only contributed, since during the pandemic the Trump administration closed off the southern border, essentially bringing legal immigration to a halt.
This long-standing crisis shows no signs of slowing unless immediate action is taken. The federal government has not yet stepped in to raise the minimum wage — which has been at $7.25 an hour since 2009. Corporate America refuses to pay their workers without a federal order, so they are finding loopholes, the most recent of which is the exploitation of children.
The Wisconsin State Senate has approved Senate Bill 322, a bill that, if passed, would allow children as young as 14 to work as late as 11 p.m. despite abundant research showing poor academic performance as a result of long work hours. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of July, 16 to 19-year-olds are being employed at higher rates now than seen in decades. Another way of closing this shortage, without providing better pay, has been to slash unemployment benefits instead of incentivizing work.
Framing this shortage as an overall lack of desire to work ignores the complicated demographic, political and social factors behind its cause, but one thing is clear, there is no end in sight.