Lots of us are saying, “Why should any of the unemployed work when they can get more from Uncle Sam by staying home than in wages if they work?”
Then another commonly heard question: “How much higher do salaries need to be to get people back to work?”
I’m tempted to offer a flip answer ... like, maybe, if employers paid a living wage with some benefits, people would want to work at the jobs they’re offering?
But that is glib – a one-liner. Because the current situation has complex origins and will require equally complex solutions.
At the same time, like all such responses, it has its feet firmly planted in a core truth.
The fact is, pre-COVID we’d become accustomed to an economy that required the average person to work several jobs and, often, both husband and wife to hold down multiple jobs. Of course, people did it. They saw no alternative and scrambled from minimum-wage job to minimum-wage job.
We accepted that state of affairs as normal.
We’d grown accustomed to an economy that thought it okay for people to live one paycheck away from disaster. And disasters happen. Ours was an American economy in which 42 million people, including 13 million children, experienced food insecurity each year while half a million people were homeless, 30% of them women and children.
This, in America. The land of the free. The home of the brave.
Then, came the novel COVID virus. You don’t need me to tell you that it knocked our economy – tragically flawed as it was – right off its feet. It also hit the poorest segments of our society most aggressively.
Then, along came Washington’s efforts at kick-starting our economy again by throwing massive amounts of money into it ... an ongoing effort. Most of those dollars, of course, will go into the coffers of the already rich. A lot will be scammed. And, many among your average Joe or Jill, among those who have no clue how to tap into the wealthy veins of the congressional acts, will get enough of this largesse to pay his or her bills for a few more months.
Do you wonder there’s no incentive to go back to scraping dishes or serving tables and smiling at customers, hoping they’ll give you enough in tips to make up for an almost nonexistent salary? As for cleaning cabins or clerking in a store for an existing minimum wage? People didn’t want to do those jobs for those wages before COVID.
As a result of where we find ourselves, of course, employers are raising salaries, offering hiring bonuses, getting creative about benefits.
Will these drop the minute the government stops paying its extra unemployment benefits? I’m guessing not, because this is a complex problem. But, at least, the current rise in salaries is a start. We might even see a day when the minimum wage for full-time employees will be a living wage.
Stranger things have happened.