Too Lazy to Work? Not Really.

Some employers say they can’t find workers after the pandemic. People are lazy. They would rather collect unemployment. Et cetera. Do I believe that? No. The story is more complicated.

Many of the jobs that go unfilled are low-wage jobs. They pay so little that people literally cannot afford to work. 

One Fair Wage explains:

“In the United States there are more than 13 million restaurant workers and 6 million tipped workers, including restaurant, nail salon, car wash, airport and parking attendants, tipped gig workers and many other occupations.2 Restaurant workers, in particular, make up one of the largest and fastest growing industries—and also the lowest paid.3 Eight of the fifteen lowest paid occupations are restaurant jobs, seven of which are tipped.4,5 In 43 states, including states hardest hit by COVID-19 (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania), tipped workers are subject to a subminimum wage6 meaning they make below each state’s set hourly minimum, forcing them to make up their remaining wages based on tips.”

In Minnesota, the minimum wage applies to restaurant/food service workers, so this is less likely to bar people from benefits. In other states, where “tip credit” laws push down the hourly wage, many earn too little to qualify for unemployment benefits. Undocumented workers, who make up a large part of this sector, also are barred from unemployment compensation. 

One Fair Wage advocates a minimum wage of $15 per hour. Minnesota is a very progressive state. Minneapolis and St. Paul are very progressive cities. Both cities had minimum wage increases on July 1, 2021. In Minneapolis, the minimum wage today is $14.25 for large businesses, with more than 100 employees, and $12.50 for smaller businesses. In St. Paul, the minimum wage is $12.50 for large businesses, $11 for small businesses with 6-100 employees, and $10 for “micro-businesses” with 1-5 employees. 

Minnesota’s state minimum wage is $10.08 an hour for large employers, and $8.21 for small employers, young people, and trainees. 

Hours

Schedules can make a job unaffordable. 

 If you work in a restaurant, your schedule probably changes every week. You might get notice on Thursday or Friday of which days you will work the following week. You might work split shifts—lunch and dinner hours, for example. That could mean working 11-2 and 5-8. That means six hours of pay for nine hours of your day, because you can’t find another job in between shifts. And if the dinner hour is slow, you may get sent home early.

Many of the jobs that employers “can’t fill because people are too lazy and would rather collect unemployment” are jobs that offer less than full-time work, low wages, and changing schedules. 

Child Care

Finding child care is always tough. Some child care centers closed during the pandemic. Even before that, waiting lists were usually long, especially in rural areas

Even if you can find it, child care is unaffordable for low-wage workers. In the Twin Cities metro area, average child care costs range from $160/week for school age, family child care to $370/week for an infant in a child care center. That means that if you have an infant, and a $10 an hour, 40-hour-a-week job, your entire paycheck is not enough to pay for childcare.

Outside the Twin Cities, costs range from $125 to $232 per week.  

If you work irregular hours or split shifts, child care is harder to find. 

Working Conditions

Some jobs just suck. The Guardian reported on hotel jobs

“Nuris Veras Merlos, a housekeeper at a Hilton in downtown Seattle, was recently recalled to her job, but is only scheduled one or two days a week because her hotel eliminated daily room cleaning. She is concerned her job may disappear.

“’Before the pandemic it was relatively simple touch-up cleaning. All of the surfaces, tiles, mirrors, glass, bathroom – it wasn’t such a big deal to clean them. Now when we work, the guests build up towels, wet floors, dirty linens, and it’s very difficult to scrub the tiles and all the surfaces. Sometimes they’re so dirty they’re black. And we have to use stronger chemicals to get them clean again and scrub with much more intensity,’ said Veras Merlos.

“It takes Veras Merlos and her co-workers nearly twice as long now to clean rooms after long stays, with much of the time spent picking up days’ worth of garbage and hauling a lot of dirty linens, trash, and cleaning equipment. She has to take ibuprofen to get through the more intense physical exertion.”

Cost-saving by cutting out daily room cleaning makes the job even harder. Hilton is one of the chains cutting housekeeping services:

“The Hilton chief executive also affirmed to investors cost-cutting reductions to housekeeping would be made permanent, even as his compensation increased by 161% from 2019 to over $55m in 2020, while median pay for Hilton employees declined by 34% from 2019 to 2020.”

Do the Math

Even in states that have cut unemployment benefits, employers can’t find workers. Missouri cut off federal unemployment supplements. That made no difference in the number of job applicants. At a Missouri job fair, you wouldn’t have to look far to understand why:

“Hundreds of jobs were being offered at the fair. A home health care agency wanted to hire aides for $10.30 an hour, the state’s minimum, to care for disabled children or mentally impaired adults. There were no benefits, and you would need a car to get from job to job. An ice rink, concert and entertainment center was looking for 80 people, paying $10.30 to $11.50 for customer service representatives and $13 for supervisors. But the jobs last just through the busy season, a few months at time, and the schedules, which often begin at 5 a.m., change from week to week.

“In St. Louis, a single person needs to earn $14 an hour to cover basic expenses at a minimum standard, according to M.I.T.’s living-wage calculator. Add a child, and the needed wage rises just above $30. Two adults working with two children would each have to earn roughly $21 an hour.”

In contrast, the Element Hotel in St. Louis found a way to attract workers:

“The hotel, which is on a major bus line, raised its starting wage to $13.50 an hour, the second increase in two months. It also offers benefits and a $50-a-month transportation allowance. The number of applicants shot up — to 40 from a handful the previous month — after the second wage increase.

“Shaleece Carter, 27, had a housekeeping job at another hotel, but it was near the airport, and her two-bus commute took two hours each way on a good day, compared with 25 minutes by car. One Saturday, when buses tend to be more irregular, she left her job at 4 p.m. but didn’t get home until 8 p.m. ‘That was it,’ she said.

“She got an offer on the spot and took it.”

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