There's A Wage Shortage, Not A Worker Shortage

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and Robert Daly/Getty

As the pandemic ends and America chugs back into something like normalcy, we’re seeing it everywhere: WORKER SHORTAGE! No one wants to work because unemployment’s too high! The Mr. Moneybags of the world assume that we proles are lazy good-for-nothings who’d rather sit home snarfing Doritos and watching the 2021 equivalent of Jerry Springer than pull up our bootstraps stick our noses to the grindstone.

First Montana opted out of added federal benefits to unemployed workers. Then South Carolina, because — really, is anyone shocked? Governor Henry McMaster, reports USA Today, claims that his (failed) state is suffering an “an unprecedented labor shortage” and unemployment help has “turned into a dangerous federal entitlement,” because “in many instances, these payments are greater than the worker’s previous pay checks.”

In the week ending June 26, 2021, 108,000 South Carolinians received an average of $230 in unemployment benefits, a sum for which Foghorn Leghorn believes people will throw up their hands and sink into a life of luxury. That adds up to $32.86 a day, which won’t buy a decent white-meat dinner for four at KFC.

But but but but, Mr. Capitalismo says. Look at Ohio. The Columbus Dispatch reports breathlessly on strategies companies are using to combat the worker shortage, AKA lure people into low-end jobs, including warehouse positions and service industry. Sheetz has raised wages two whole dollars! White Castle bumped starting wages from $11.50 to $15.00! There are signing bonuses. There are free pizzas. There are free dinners. But as Nationwide Insurance senior economist Ben Ayers says, in effect, pay them, and they will come.

“A more permanent wage would probably resonate with most workers,” he told the Dispatch.

There Is No Worker Shortage


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Here’s our narrative. The federal government dumped cash into unemployment checks. This bumped the checks too high, leaving our unemployeed swaddled in Beverly-Hillbillies-style luxury. Now the lazy bastards won’t work, so low-wage jobs go unfilled. Hence, worker shortage. Therefore, slash benefits. “We were in competition with the U.S. Government,’’ said one man from Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati — Ohio has also opted out of federal unemployment dollars. “While we could pay more, there wasn’t enough of a premium for them (former casino workers) to come back.”

But South Carolina’s numbers show that’s just not true. The checks aren’t high enough.

United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America show data pointing out that new weekly unemployment claims in May were comparable to weekly claims during the Great Recession of 2008 and the two recessions of the early 1980s. Wages in lesiure and hospitality sectors have risen about 17.6% compared to six months ago.

Workers exist for these jobs. UE reports that when Klavon’s Ice Cream, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, raised their wages to $15 an hour, they were “flooded with applicants.” As the Economic Policy Institute says, in a labor market as complex as America’s, there will always be pockets of worker shortages. But right now, “Employers post their too-low wages, can’t find workers to fill jobs at that pay level, and claim they’re facing a labor shortage… whenever anyone says, ‘I can’t find the workers I need,’ she should really add, ‘at the wages I want to pay.'”

There’s no worker shortage.

People refuse to work for circus peanuts anymore.

It’s A Wage Shortage

The unemployment benefits, explains the UE in what most Fox News viewers would “communist” terms, are doing their job: they’re stopping people from taking “substandard jobs,” which would “drive a ‘race to the bottom’ of wages and conditions for the whole working class.” This is not actually communist, but common sense. If people need jobs so badly that companies are allowed to name their price for workers, they will name the lowest price possible. This is basic economics and has nothing to do with radical Marxism. Wages will continue to tumble. If people will work for less at one plant, the plant next door can drop its wages, too. Don’t like it? You don’t have a choice, because there is literally no choice.

It’s remarkable how little common sense resembles Stalinist Russia.

The “worker shortage” shows, says the UE, that in the wake of COVID-19, people are “refusing to work for poverty wages.”

And they’re refusing to work in shit conditions. The Economic Policy Institute points out that many of the people screeching about worker shortages are restaurant owners. Lots of the businesses struggling to attract workers in Ohio and South Carolina come from the restaurant and hospitality sectors. These business owners are trying to find workers at the same wages they paid pre-pandemic.

Pause for laughter.

Their workers have to cope with anti-maskers, risks to their own health, and more stress. It’s harder to find safe childcare. Much of the work is take-out and pickup; people don’t tip for those, and that drives down wages for waiters. “That’s not a labor shortage, that’s the market functioning,” says EPI. “The wages for a harder, riskier job should be higher.”

Those leisure and hospitality people throwing tantrums actually added 280,000 jobs in March. But Mr. Moneybags is a stingy sonofabitch. Average pay for workers in those sectors: $19,651 a year. If you pay a combined $1,000 in rent and utilities, which is laughable in America, that leaves only $7,651 to pay for food, childcare, car insurance, health insurance (which likely isn’t included in your salary, and if it is, you have less ready cash), clothes, a phone, and everything else you need to survive.

Pause for more laughter.

And there’s actually 80% more unemployed workers than jobs in the hospitality and leisure sector anyway.

There is no worker shortage. If you pay them, they will come. But Mr. Moneybags doesn’t want to pay: he’s stuck in that race to the bottom. Maybe if he opened his wallet a little, he’d find workers.

But he’s too stingy.

Good luck staffing your restaurants at poverty wages. Americans simply can’t work for peanuts anymore.

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