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Businesses Can’t Find Workers For Low-Paying Jobs As Pandemic Eases

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Image credit/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Posted: May 18, 2021 at 11:37 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Many are hopeful for a strong economic recovery with vaccination rates rising, COVID numbers dropping, and businesses reopening across America.

But, there are widespread reports that businesses are struggling to find workers to fill-low-paying service jobs, with some chains and companies taking the step to increase wages and benefits.

Dozens of viral social media posts show fast-food restaurants with paper on their front door telling potential customers that they are closed because workers quit or they are understaffed. Some restaurants have taken to offering money just for prospective employees to show up for an interview.

Many on the right have posited that increased unemployment benefits are the culprit for an American workforce that seems unwilling to reenter the workforce. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a conservative pro-business lobbying group, pointed the finger at a $300-per-week federal jobless benefit for what it argued were weak unemployment numbers.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellin has argued that there is no evidence to suggest this is the case, and she pointed to data that showed the opposite was true in a recent press conference.

Minimum Wage

The struggles of big and small businesses to low-wage jobs are a boon to those pushing for a higher federal minimum wage. The fight for a $15-dollar minimum wage has been a battle for longer than a decade, and with inflation rapidly increasing, a hike from the $7.25 minimum wage could be on the cards.

While President Biden pushed for a $15 minimum wage in his first address to Congress, backers of the increased minimum wage face fierce opposition from the Republicans and conservative Democrats. The Party has failed to get in line for multiple important votes.

President Biden passed an executive order several weeks ago to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for federal employees.

While pro-businesses lobbies and more fiscally conservative government members are against an increase, 62% of Americans support a $15 minimum wage, according to Pew Research.

Accounting for inflation, wages for the American worker have remained remarkably stagnant in the last six decades, meaning the average American worker has seen their purchasing power significantly reduced.

For some pro-labor activists, it begs the question if a $15 minimum wage is already too little considering the failure of the American economy to increase wages for the average worker over multiple generations. According to research from CNBC, a $15 hourly wage is not enough for a family of four to “afford the basics” in any U.S. state.

While some work-from-home workers have done exceptionally well during the COVID downturn, many low-income workers and others in industries harder hit by the pandemic are more susceptible to decreased unemployment benefits and changes in consumer prices.

Inflation

The latest economic concern, especially for workers in need of a wage hike, is looming inflation. Consumer prices have risen 4.2% since April last year, the biggest 12-month increase since 2008.

If wages keep up with the increase in inflation, the working class can keep up as well. But if low-paying jobs fail to meet the increased needs of workers, there will be gaps in the employment market as workers seek higher wages.

While inflation worries have spooked Wall Street, it’s unclear if its effects are being felt by workers who would typically fill these low-paying jobs. However, if the inflation rate continues at this clip, more companies will have to increase wages and benefits.

With concerns of inflation and stagnating wages, some are hoping for an increase in strike activity and labor unionization.

Labor

The summer of 2020 saw a mass mobilization of people in the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism in America. Some labor unions joined the struggle, most notably when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down ports across the western United States.

Some put stock in a general strike rising out of the NBA wildcat strike when teams refused to play after repeated acts of police violence stole headlines. NBA players brought plenty of attention to the anti-racist movement, but a general strike, including American workers, was not on the cards.

While a coordinated, widespread general strike may seem like a pie-in-the-sky concept, as the American economy has “reopened,” there have been increased labor activities.

Many restaurant and food industry workers have protested low pay and poor working conditions that were highlighted even more starkly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the defeat of their unionization vote, Amazon workers and pro-labor activists continue to push for better working conditions in warehouses. The big defeat was a blow to the unionization move, but Amazon’s strong push to defeat the bid may have overstepped some legal boundaries.

With workers refusing to take low-paying work, some firms are left with no choice but to raise wages in an attempt to fend off a labor movement that is looking for less exploitative working conditions.

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