Walking down a busy urban street,
one cannot help but notice the number of “help wanted”
signs that grace the front of many establishments. Restaurants,
grocery stores, and retail establishments all seem to want workers.
Many of them indicate their starting pay is “at least”
$15 an hour. Some list other benefits in the window, including things
like vacation time, employee discounts, and more.
aren’t pounding down doors for these jobs, though. Part of the
challenge is the uncertainty around COVID and its variants,
especially the delta variant that seems far more deadly than the
original virus. The other part of the challenge is that people simply
aren’t being paid enough. While $15 an hour is twice the
current minimum wage (and can we please raise that sooner rather than
later), for some workers, it just isn’t enough, especially if
they are supporting families. $15 an hour is $30,000 a year for a
full-time, full-year job. The poverty line for a family of four is
$26,500, so a $15 an hour job puts a family above the poverty line,
but just barely.
have been rethinking their employment situation and their options
because of COVID. Thus, when the unemployment rate report was
released on October 8, economists were disappointed to learn that
only new 194,000 jobs were created in September. The projection was
that more than 500,000 jobs would be created, in line with the job
creation we’d seen before now. But this was before the delta
September unemployment rate, at 4.8 percent, seems low and would be a
step in the right direction, except it is partly reflective of the
fact that some people have been dropping out of the labor force.
Employment in public education declined in September, and COVID is
partly to blame for that. And when schools are not open, that means
those who take care of children, primarily women, will not be
keep hearing reports of labor shortages, especially in education.
Some school districts are having trouble attracting enough substitute
teachers. As they adhere to the laws of supply and demand, more
substitute teachers may be interested in working, but school
districts, to attract them, will have to pay more. Some are doing
exactly that, with compensation up, in many cases, by as much as 50
percent. Other schools, interestingly, are creating opportunities for
“full-time” substitutes, which means a teacher may be
assigned to a school and float among classrooms when a regular
teacher can’t come to school, either because of illness or
child care emergencies. The same innovative thinking addressing the
substitute teacher shortage ought to be used to attract more workers
in the hospitality and retail industries. While some unions and
workers have galvanized around the “Fight for $15”,
fifteen dollars an hour simply may not be enough.
we need more workers, employers should consider offering better wages
or providing better working conditions and benefits. The fact that
the minimum wage has remained constant for a decade speaks to the
disrespect many have for workers, especially those at the bottom.
Whatever happened to the concept of a living wage?
the unemployment rate is falling, the racial unemployment rate gap
remains. The unemployment rate for whites is 4.2 percent, compared to
7.9 percent for African Americans. And while 67.2 percent of white
men are employed, the number is lower, at 60.7 percent lower for
Black men. The situation is a bit different for women, since 54
percent of white women are employed, compared to 56.8 percent of
Black women. The difference can be attributed to the fact that Black
women may have both less flexibility in employment and more family
financial responsibility given the number of Black families that are
Our labor market just ain’t what it
used to be, and in some ways, that’s a good thing. Employers need to
address the so-called labor shortage by implementing innovation –
paying people more, providing more flexibility for all workers, and
offering more benefits, especially health care for workers. COVID
reminds us that the “old ways” don’t work anymore. The pace of change
is often glacial, but when employers want more workers, they will stop
talking about the labor shortage and instead address the pay shortfall.