Wherever I go in business, whomever I speak with, the conversation inevitably gravitates to one topic: labor/people. No one can find enough of ’em and those who do are paying through the nose. They have all the leverage. So I keep asking, “Where did all the people go?”
At first I thought maybe those who came from other countries returned to their native lands when COVID-19 hit and never returned. Then I thought the people who do the jobs you and I would never want to do switched careers and started driving Ubers. I’m beginning to fear it’s as simple as a disrespect for work and a lack of desire to do it.
Last month there was a rosy job announcement coming out of Washington, but truth be told they don’t tell you the entire story. Over the last two years, millions of Americans have quit working or even looking for work. Since they’re not looking, the U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t count them as unemployed. If they counted, the unemployment rate right now would be 5.5% instead of the official 3.6% figure.
The good news is the latest jobs report showed 372,000 positions added. The bad news is too few Americans are willing to go back to work. They’ve decided to sit on the couch instead. There are 500,000 fewer people working today than before the pandemic and 11.3 million unfilled jobs. The labor-force participation rate remains well below pre-pandemic levels. What does that mean for the future? Lower productivity per capita, a scarcity of goods and services, and a lower standard of living for all. Too few people carrying the load for the entire society.
The labor-participation rate is 62.3%, down from 63.4% before COVID-19. Retiring baby boomers account for some of the drop, but what Andy Puzner, a former restaurant-chain CEO, said: “During most of 2021, supplemental federal unemployment benefits” and other add-ons paid “entry-level workers more to stay home than to return to work.” That’s why so many restaurants and stores everywhere have had “Help Wanted” signs in the windows. Drive up and down I-75 in Dalton and almost every billboard is adorned with a “We’re Hiring” sign. You can pick your carpet manufacturer; they all want you. The easy answer is to just increase wages, but that will either lead to a decrease in profitability or an increase in prices. (In case you are wondering where inflation comes from.)
A June 2021 analysis by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity found that a family of four with two parents out of work earned around $72,000 in unemployment benefits. That’s more than the national median household income. Why work?
Welfare is important for anyone who’s unable to work, but it shouldn’t replace work for the able-bodied. You grew up being taught that you had to work to make money. You didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the perfect job to come along. I learned early on 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 love their job. You know what they do love? Eating and having a roof over their head.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi advocated for the enactment of Obamacare, promising it would liberate people from “job lock.” They wouldn’t have to work to get on-the-job health coverage. 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 state legislation to slash the workweek to 32 hours for employees of large companies. Same pay for fewer hours. One of the bill’s sponsors, Cristina Garcia, argued, “There has been no correlation between working more 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 land 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 less, too. 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 is starting to decline in the United States because too few people are working and too many are sitting on the sidelines. A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in the community.concerns me is the number of working-age people throwing in the towel and counting on working stiffs to support them. So what’s really to blame? Many people believe 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.