According to this May 11 Voice of America article:
“…at the end of March there were 8.1 million open jobs in the country, the highest number since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the figure in 2000.”
Then the BLS reported that the number of newly employed Americans had risen by only 266,000 in April rather than the one million that had been forecast.
The article goes on to say,
“Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce blame the Biden administration’s continuation of expanded unemployment benefits of ‘paying people not to work.’
“Republicans in Congress, many using the exact language of the chamber, excoriated the administration…”
Republicans have grown expert at excoriating the administration.
If President Biden said on a Friday morning, “Today is Friday,” it would be followed by a Mitch McConnell/Kevin McCarthy duet of, “I object to that! That’s political and Biden is politicizing it! It’s the Big Lie!”
And they’d be backed up by a lockstep chorus line of Republicans shouting, “The Big Lie! The Big Lie!”
So let’s leave that mess aside and talk about why that April newly employed number was less than expected.
We’ve heard many reasons why people haven’t returned to work, but there’s a reason we haven’t heard much about, and it’s not people getting paid to not work.
And it’s a reason I totally get:
Many people who were laid off have had time to reflect on their employment.
And basically, they decided…
What prompted my thinking along these lines was this very insightful article from the Associated Press:
The article included interviews with a number of people I consider a good representation of the sentiment out there.
One was 57-year-old Ellen Booth:
“After a lifelong career as a bartender, Booth (below, right) was in constant pain from lifting ice buckets and beer kegs. But without a college degree, she felt she had limited options.
“When the restaurant she worked for closed last year, she said it gave her ‘the kick I needed.’ Booth started a year-long class to learn to be medical coder. When her unemployment benefits ran out two months ago, she started drawing on her retirement funds. She’ll take an exam in the coming weeks to get certified, and hit the job market.”
Then there was Nate Mullins, 36, also a former bartender. Not working prompted him to start thinking long-term – about health care and retirement benefits. And Mark Smithivas, 52, a former Uber and Lyft driver. He spent the last year taking technology classes in a federal worker training program.
There were other interviews, but the one that resonated with me the most was 25-year-old Shelly Ortiz. Ortiz, said the article,
“…used to love her career as a restaurant server. But things changed last June, when her Phoenix restaurant reopened its dining room. She wore two masks and glasses to protect herself, but still felt anxiety in a restaurant full of unmasked diners.
“Sexual harassment also got worse. Patrons would ask her to pull down her mask so they could see how cute she was before tipping her.”
Ortiz quit in July, returned to school full time, and this month she’s graduating from Glendale Community College with a degree in film and a certificate in documentary directing.
No more “pull down your mask” for her.
There are all sorts of bromides out there about loving your work:
Please: Spare me.
The reality is, most people spend their lives working for a paycheck. They’re not doing what they love – like something in the arts, or in sports, or in the nonprofit sector, or studying whales, or whatever. And that’s because they have rent to pay, and groceries to buy, and doctors and dentists, and gasoline to put in the car, if they can afford to own one.
Being a starving artist may sound enticing, but most people don’t go that route.
You can’t feed your unsold paintings to your kids.
So, to the people who haven’t rushed back to their old jobs as the pandemic restrictions ease… To those who have utilized this time to reflect on their priorities, and change direction… To those to whom life gave lemons and are turning them into lemonade…