Home > Essays > This Just In: Workers Don’t Want to Accept Crappy Jobs

This Just In: Workers Don’t Want to Accept Crappy Jobs

May 27, 2021

As of today, 24 states led by the GOP— including New Hampshire—have decided to put a stop to the federal government’s $300/week unemployment supplement. The legislators in those states assert that the $300 is a disincentive to job seeking. They believe that if the supplement were eliminated it would compel more workers to enter the workforce and, in doing so, address the “job shortage” employers are facing. Yet, as a story in our local newspaper, the Valley News, noted, studies during the pandemic find scant evidence that increased unemployment payments have disincentivized workers from seeking jobs. 

A November 20, 2019 article by Dana Wilkie in a newsletter published by an HR professional organization reported on a Gallup poll that revealed that only 40% of the workforce felt they had “good jobs” while one out of six members of the workforce felt they had “bad jobs”. The balance classified their jobs as “mediocre”. That same survey listed the elements that comprised a good job. One element was the level of compensation, but the balance of the list included things like the stability and predictability of pay and work hours, control over hours and/or job location. job security, and employee benefits.

Of all the items on that list, the need for stable and predictable pay and work hours has the greatest impact on family life and schools. According to a 2017 census report, of the 72.3 million children in the United States living with at least one of their parents, 43 percent (31.0 million) live with a parent who is working a nonstandard schedule, that is a schedule different from the traditional Monday through Friday daytime schedule. 100% of the schools, though, operate on the traditional Monday through Friday daytime schedule, a schedule that was put in place during an era when a single breadwinner was capable of supporting a family and women were largely out of the workforce. In 1950, only 12% of mothers of pre-school-age children and only 28% of mothers of school-age children worked. In 2019 the numbers reversed: 72% of mothers were in the workforce.  A 2014 meta-analysis by University of Texas professor Carolyn Heinrich emphasized that having a mother in the workforce is not necessarily detrimental and identified those children of working mothers who are most likely to be adversely affected:

Research finds that low-quality jobs (for example, those with low pay, irregular hours, or few or no benefits) are linked with higher work-related stress for parents, which in turn detracts from children’s well- being. The effects of parents’ work-related stress on children are particularly strong for single-mother families.

Presently, the parents whose work is most likely to have negative effects on their children are the same parents who are least able to take leave, cut their paid work hours, or otherwise secure the resources they need to provide for their children’s wellbeing. As a nation, we could do more (possibly by simplifying federal tax provisions) to encourage employers to offer benefits such as paid sick leave, which enhance job quality and help parents balance work with the needs of their children.

So bad, low-wage jobs create “work-related stress for parents, which in turn detracts from children’s well- being”. Is it possible that parents holding crappy jobs don’t want to return to work under the same conditions they experienced before the pandemic?

As for the businesses applying pressure to the State governments to withhold the $300/week supplement, a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that when an ice cream parlor in Pennsylvania offered $15/hour as a base wage instead of their minimum wage of $7.25 an hour they were flooded with applicants. Here’s a quote from the article:

Jacob Hanchar, the co-owner of Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor in Pittsburgh, says his store was able to fill 16 open staff positions “practically overnight” after announcing the new pay rate. Klavon’s received “well over 1,000 applications” for job openings, and 250 applications came in from Facebook alone, he said.

And the decision to raise wages had another by-product for the ice cream parlor:

…Hanchar said the wage increase has ultimately helped his business by reducing the number of workers who often leave for better pay, thus limiting his expense of finding and retraining new employees.

And here’s an interesting mathematical calculation: $300/week works out to $7.50/hour if one is working 40 hours a week. That’s very close to the pay boost that the local ice cream parlor offered, a boost that helped the small business owner attract hundreds of applicants and limit his turnover.

As one who believes government should regulate profiteering, it is ironic that instead of seeking a market-based solution to their labor woes— raising pay— the business community is seeking government intervention to force workers to accept the pre-Covid status quo: low-wage jobs with irregular work schedules, jobs that create “work-related stress for parents, which in turn detracts from children’s well- being”. But those wages and working conditions DO help the bottom line which rewards shareholders…. and happy shareholders are more important than happy wage-earners, happy families, and the well being of children.

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