COLUMN: Do we even want to go back to the working conditions before the pandemic? | Chroniclers


Not since 1942, when women invaded the workplace to support the war effort, have we witnessed a workers’ revolution like the one we are experiencing today. A recently released global survey by the Duke Fuqua School of Business of CFOs indicates that job vacancies are at their highest level in 20 years. Total employment is now 5 million below the pre-pandemic peak. How to explain this in a growing economy?

Some voices say workers are just lazy and don’t want to work, believing that many still live off the overly generous unemployment benefits they have received. Others believe lingering fear of the pandemic is preventing some from returning to work. Both are wrong!

A record 4.3 million, or nearly 3% of the labor force, left their jobs in August. Hiring in all industries is almost 2% lower than it was before the pandemic. Some have taken early retirement, saying their reduced costs for clothing, gasoline, restaurants and business-related expenses, especially high childcare costs, have helped offset the loss in income. As one bumper sticker said, “My take-home pay won’t bring me home.”

Many stay at home because they are unwilling to return to low-paying jobs in poor working conditions. Who can blame nurses, teachers, flight attendants, restaurants, hotel workers and others for quitting jobs with inadequate wages and abusive treatment from employers and customers? Many quit because they believe they can get a better job and are willing to wait.

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