Everything We Know About Work is Wrong. The Pandemic Proved It.
So what can the plight of a little cafe tell you about the state of the American economy and the changing face of work? A lot, as it turns out.
The other week, the bistro where my family and I have been grabbing brunch every Sunday since the start of the pandemic announced that it would be shuttering on weekends, and shifting to a more limited, weekday schedule. The reason was a familiar one: The owner couldn’t find the staff they needed to both function effectively and to keep themselves and their current staff from being ground into dust from the punishing pace.
The news was heartbreaking, if entirely unsurprising. Employers across the nation are struggling with a labor shortage so profound that one Alabama pizzeria vowed to hire “literally anyone” just to keep the doors open, according to Business Insider.
Business leaders have falsely blamed the crisis on generous pandemic unemployment benefits, arguing that they’re a disincentive to return to the labor force. Study after study has proven this is not the case. Instead, more seismic forces are at work.
In April of this year, a staggering 4 million people quit their jobs, in a phenomenon that’s come to be called “The Great Resignation,” Vox reported.
It’s not that people don’t want to work, but rather it’s that, after an earth-shattering 16 months that have seen hundreds of thousands of our family members, friends, and neighbors die at the hands of an implacable and indiscriminate foe, there’s just a genuine question of whether grinding it out for 4o hours a week at a job with substandard pay, low benefits, and little work-home balance is really worth it.
Increasingly, the answer is a resounding “No.”
Hospitality and leisure workers, who staff restaurants, bars, and hotels, and who had to bear the brunt of pandemic-induced rage for low wages and little dignity, are leading that exodus. In April, the sector lost more than 740,000 people.
In the midst of the pandemic, workers across industries discovered something: When they weren’t tethered to desks or jobs, there was time for something miraculous: Family and community, the hobby they’d been putting off learning, the time to retrain and search for new, and more fulfilling, work.
Admittedly, not everyone had this luxury, working parents had to scramble to find child care, or balance the demands of remote work against acting as their children’s homeroom teacher.