You want them to, NOW, as you sit in your car, the twelfth one in line at McDonald’s. Waiting, waiting, waiting, you turn your head, seeing a completely empty restaurant… and just when you start to wonder if a damned Egg McGriddle with Hot Cakes is worth all this time, the line moves, pushing the sunk-cost fallacy even deeper into your brain. Your car slides forward 11 feet, it stops, and you resume the praying position, head bowing as you look at your phone, not noticing the sigh of resignation which just blew through your lips.
You want things as they were pre-COVID, where you could just park, use one of those brand-new shiny kiosks to order and pay, hit the bathroom while your food is being bagged, and then grab your food and go, all in less than 5 minutes. But you can’t.
Because they’re not coming back.
It is amazing what a difference a few months make, isn’t it? And yet… the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
Back in August it was debated whether the finest economic minds the GOP had to offer were correct in ending the extended COVID unemployment benefits in conservative states, most of this occurring by July 31st. Their basic argument was this would bring the Poors back to their jobs at Popeye’s and Walmart because the Poors were getting too rich off the government dole. The elites, too, are tired of the drive thru lines at Starbucks, the fact it takes an hour and a half for your Uber Eats order to arrive, the reduced hours at Home Depot.
So, in traditional American style, they decided: We are going to impoverish a class of people into working!
How’d that go?
There was a very disappointing September jobs report, following a couple of rather lackluster summer job reports, where only 194,000 jobs were added in the ninth month. Odd because the anecdata I am hearing, both on the internet and elsewhere suggested an extremely tight job market – people hired prior to background checks being completed, the situation at fast food and casual dining restaurants, successful strikes at John Deere and elsewhere… but, regardless, the data was the data. And it wasn’t good.
What was happening? People weren’t returning to work, they were kicked off unemployment, and the lines at fast food places are worse than ever.
How is this possible that there aren’t enough people to work at these jobs anymore, and why weren’t people returning to their restaurant and retail jobs?
For starters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began to quietly revise… in footnotes… the disappointing summer numbers upward. June had 112k jobs added to its report. July, 148k jobs added. A month after that, another 248,000 jobs were found to have been created in August… all told, over 626,000 newly created jobs were under-reported between June and September. So the job news was nowhere near as bad as it seemed. In fact, the labor market has been tightening the entire summer.
Finally, last week, jobless claims fell to the lowest amount since *Sugar, Sugar* by the Archies was playing out of transistor radios every day, with a mere 199,000 people filing for unemployment.
This is where we stand today, a vastly different employment situation being portrayed by the media (and the BLS) than 2 months ago: Everyone who wants to work and needs a job, pretty much has one.
And yet… you’re reading this… now the 6th car in line (2 away from the speaker!)… and you’re wondering: where the hell are the workers? They were here just 24 months ago! If the employment numbers are so good, where are they?
They’re not coming back
Not to those jobs. Not to restaurant and retail jobs. Not after what they’ve experienced the past 18 months.
Not even at the ‘high’ post-COVID hourly rates of $12, $15, $18/hour for jobs which… up until to February 2020… you could keep fully staffed, 24/7/365, for $8/hour, $10/hour easy.
Only the higher scale restaurants, i.e., the best paying, have pre-COVID employment levels. The lower ones on the payscale ladder are struggling, reducing hours, menu items, eliminating service options as to manage order flow: no more walk-in business at many places, not because of COVID, but because of the demands placed upon the currently reduced workforce by the drive through and delivery orders.
Interestingly, those restaurants who always struggled… for example, the undercapitalized family Taquerias… they are still doing their thing, it’s the mid-tier restaurants with $7-12 plates and large dining rooms which are beginning to shutter around here.
Same thing with retail outlets – reduced hours, even with Christmas around the corner. Many places had pre-Thanksgiving signs saying “See you Friday morning at 7am, enjoy your turkey!” which is industry code for “We were concerned if we made our employees work Thanksgiving night they would just refuse to show up. At all.”
They’re not coming back. Not @ $14/hour they’re not. Not in the numbers it takes to make your restaurant fully pre-COVID operational they’re not.
And so, we’re left with why?
It’s not the disease. While it killed over a million in the US (like Biden’s job numbers, I fully expect figures… especially the 2020 death toll… to be revised upward) – the majority of deaths were in the elderly demographics.
It’s not America’s too-generous social safety programs. Don’t make me laugh.
It’s not that the jobs aren’t out there. We know they are.
It’s not that the jobs are minimum wage. Hell, I’m going to give conservatives credit here, just you watch: Via your malignant handling of the COVID disaster, coupled with a 40-year fight against raising the minimum wage*, capping it off by acting like anti-vaxx barbarians to restaurant and retail staff for 9 straight months happening to coincide with the worst outbreak of conservative-inspired racial violence since the 1960s, you conservatives have finally achieved a labor market where the minimum wage is no longer needed to keep your donor’s businesses running, because your donors employees now want 3-5 times as much to do the same job the minimum wage sufficed for in 2019.
Good going, guys!
No, it’s something more basic.
Or the lack of it.
Being treated like useless assholes, seeing white women after white men yell at Hispanic shift managers and black cashiers for hours on TikTok, those who were once lauded as “essential workers” just don’t want America’s shit anymore. Especially at $8 an hour, $320 (max) pre-tax), $265 post-tax.
They’ve decided if forty hours of their lives are only worth $265 to America and Americans, America can just go find someone else to make their damned chicken alfredo and stock their shelves. Subject to abuse from both coworkers and customers, having to buy/wash a uniform, even being charged for the food you must eat to sustain yourself on a 12-hour restaurant shift, all this crap and more for a whopping $8, $10 an hour? 30 hours a week? For a job which has a transportation requirement?
Millions have decided: Screw that. It ain’t worth it.
They found salaried positions. They are working the gig economy, from driving Ubers to tutoring online remotely to doing a seemingly endless amount of marketing surveys for Amazon gift cards. They buy stuff off ebay, refurnish it, and resell it at a nice profit. I talked to someone who uses Craigslist to find people who need personal assistance services, and he gets $100 each to do grocery shopping and errand running every week. Has 7 clients, makes three times as much in cash as he did restocking shelves @ Walmart… and works about 25 hours a week.
He's not alone. And why would he ever go back to stocking shelves?
They’ve pared down their lives and found other means of making that $300/week. The low-wage workers in the past year+ have received a deadly lesson in how poorly this country values them: for a brief, shining moment, they were the exalted ‘essential employee’ … but now, to Mr and Ms Conservative, the essential employee of 2020 is just another 2021 asshole telling them to wear a mask, a lazy bum whose salary demands are now… somehow… driving inflation. And for what, these very same people ask? To flip burgers? ‘Why should anyone be paid a dignified wage to work in a restaurant?’, those very workers read daily on Facebook, on NextDoor, on Insta.
Well, they have received Americas message.
When they lost their jobs at the early part of the pandemic, they took stock of their lives and realized America will never pay them enough to save for retirement. Hourly employees can no longer save for a used car much less a house, much less be like their grandads in the 1960s who had a boat and a vacation home on a factory-workers salary.
No wonder the plutocrats took Grandad’s factory wages away from his son and grandkids, spending millions to demonize the unions which won Grandad this pay, slowly grinding middle-class pay down while their stock options rose ever higher:
Any surprise his grandchildren and great grandchildren no longer dream the American dream?
No. For the people you see in the Taquera, they realized… because of COVID and the white power structure’s reaction to it… there is no need to dream the American dream anymore as America won’t pay them enough to achieve it.
You cannot dream the American dream if America refuses to pay you enough so you have surplus capital (MONEY) with which you can save and invest. Without this surplus money being paid to workers… even fast food employees… America is a wage-slave nation.
For many, our system is effectively feudalism by capital instead of land.
You need this surplus. To save for a home. To pay for a car. To retire.
To afford respect.
To have dignity.
To be an American.
So what has happened is this:
Over the past decade an underground economic system powered by mobile technology has grown, allowing people to earn money outside the W-2 economy – Surveys, remote work, Uber, Instacart, Craigslist, Ebay, more, all this allowed people to earn $ outside the W-2 system. Couple this development with a minimum wage which never provided sustenance*, and when you finally add COVID and Americans response to the pandemic to this mix, by 2021, entire classes of W-2 jobs became effectively worthless to the people holding them.
And now? After they have tasted freedom from their crappy jobs?
They’re not coming back.