It was only five years ago that Taquasia Mason started her working career at a McDonald's in Durham, N.C., grateful to find even a job that only paid the legal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
But thanks to the pandemic, Mason's prospects, and her leverage, have vastly improved.
Earlier this year, the 22-year-old high school graduate took a job at an Amazon warehouse in Durham, earning $15 an hour plus, for a brief period, $2 per hour in pandemic pay.
In May, when Amazon moved her to a night shift, she jumped to another job at the same hourly rate, as part of a hospital cleaning staff.
Last week, Mason was already looking for something better, joining 100 people at a job fair eyeing 350 openings, many paying $15 an hour plus good benefits. She immediately drew the attention of a recruiter.
In an interview, Mason marveled at how the tables had turned since she first joined the workforce.
"Before, you can't find so many places that wanted to start you off at $15 an hour basically with no experience," Mason said. "It just amazes me nowadays."
For decades, American workers who did not belong to unions or possess high-value job skills had little leverage in the job market. Even during periods of relatively low unemployment, most had almost no muscle to flex when it came to wages and benefits.
Instead of going to workers, an ever-larger share of national income went to profits and to shareholders. The prevailing philosophy in American business has been that a company's first duty is to maximize value for stockholders.
Today, thanks in no small part to the COVID-19 pandemic and less directly to changing demographics, the balance of power may be starting to shift.