I know, I know, I’ve been away. I wrote on my blog every, single day last year and this year it’s been sporadic at best. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, in fact, I’ll talk about that tomorrow, is that okay? Catch you all up with my life? It’s been pretty nuts! Thanks for understanding. Today I’m here to talk about the supposed labor shortage, though to be honest everyone I know who was unemployed last year now has a job, and the thing I find slightly odd is that many of them applied to several (like more than twenty jobs depending on how long they were out of work) and didn’t even hear back from some of them, some of the places that proudly had “Now Hiring” signs or “Thank the ones who showed up” signs in their windows, so what gives?
I happened upon a documentary the other day from 2009. It was following people who were on unemployment during The Great Recession back in 2008 and it caught up with a group of people in Long Island, NY who were part of the 99ers. The 99ers are people who were still on unemployment at their 99th week of unemployment which is the last week you can legally get unemployment benefits. These people had applied for literally thousands of jobs over those 99 weeks, you have to when you’re on unemployment because you have to log it with unemployment, but aside from that these were people who had worked all their lives in good, high-paying jobs on Wall St. for instance and when the recession hit they were booted out.
The jobs they were applying for though, were far from where they had worked. They were applying to work the register at Home Depot, to drive a truck for FedEx, to work the make-up counter at Macy’s. Essentially they were looking to take any job at that point, but no one was calling them back. Meanwhile, the media was screaming, “Lazy people need to get a job! Get two jobs if you have to!” These people, these people who had previously made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year were trying to get a job at Target, they would get two jobs if it meant not having to sell their homes or foreclose, but they were being told they were “overqualified.”
This is a real thing that I went through as well. Jerimiah lost his job in that same recession and I had just quit mine to stay at home full time with our kid. Then boom, he lost his and we found ourselves trying to live off the $325 a week from unemployment. Meanwhile he was applying for at least 40 jobs a week, and I started applying too thinking maybe I could snag a lower-paying job since I didn’t yet have a college degree and he did. I was actually turned down at Target to work the cash register because I was “overqualified.” Do you know what that meant in my case? It meant that when they asked what I made in my last job and I put $14 an hour they decided that was too much to pay, so they didn’t even attempt to interview me. Why would they when someone was willing to take the job at $8 an hour? I would have taken that job at $8 an hour too, but I was never even given the opportunity.
Why I am telling you all this? Because I think the same thing is happening now. I think the suppose “labor shortage” isn’t one at all. It’s people who are writing that they want to make $15 an hour on their application are getting overlooked in lieu of people who will make less but it’s taking the companies longer to find people who will work for that low of a wage so here we are. Some people actually believe that these same companies are full up on employees but are looking for ones they can pay lower, or just like to have the “Now hiring” signs up for what? Fun? Belonging? To maintain this idea of a labor shortage? That feels too cynical to me, but not way off base. I’m just saying that it’s the businesses greedy practices that are certainly driving the “labor shortage” not an actual “labor shortage” and it’s probably high time we call it what it really is.
Eventually Jerimiah found work in 2009. He went from being a recent-college grad making $50,000 a year to making $12 an hour, but hey, it was something and he took it. I never got an interview, not one interview from the 40 or so jobs I applied for. I even called my old job back and asked to just come and serve, wait tables, and they told me they already had too many people vying for shifts.
Last week we were traveling to New York and we stayed over at a hotel in Fort Lee, Virginia. The next morning while we were loading the car DuPont, the company that makes pretty toxic chemicals, was having a job fair at our hotel. When we walked outside the job fair line was wrapped around the building at 8:00 am. There were men and women, young and old, some were in three-piece suits, some were in jeans and hoodies. The wages they were advertising were anywhere from $16 to $21 dollars for entry-level jobs and people were there. There was no labor shortage. They would have more than enough people to choose from for their new crews. But all I see when I turn the television on is people screaming, “Get a job! Get two jobs if you need to!”
How are you supposed to get two jobs if you can’t even get one?
As an aside I’ve talked recently to people who believe that a $15/hour federal wage mandate is too much, and all I can think about is how that line at the hotel was wrapped around the corner. How people trying to figure out how to feed their kids in Fort Lee, Virginia were practicing their elevator pitches for a $16/hour job working with toxic chemicals. How if we don’t mandate it federally, states like Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri will give advantage to the companies, not the people, and we will will never climb out of this generational poverty.
Of course these people aren’t from generational poverty, so how would they know. We have to start thinking outside of ourselves or we won’t ever get better.
I don’t have all the answers, and I’m sure I’m seeing this from only one side. But if I’m gonna be on one side, I want to be on the side of the unemployed. That makes me sleep better at night.
Stay safe and sane, y’all.