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With Jobs Galore, Do People Not Want to Work?
October 21, 2021

With Jobs Galore, Do People Not Want to Work?

I had never seen a “Help Wanted” sign above a men’s urinal before. But there it was…in a Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania Walmart. It offered $18 an hour, plus benefits and a promise to pay for college education fees. The state’s minimum wage,which hasn’t increased in 15 years, is $7.25 an hour. Every week, a recruitment officer holds court near the front of the store, trying to convince people to work at Walmart.

There are similar urgent calls for employees from businesses across the country.  So…do people not want to work? Some say people are lazy, living on pandemic-inspired, government subsidies. Others say there is still plenty of fear of COVID-19, so they won’t accept service-oriented jobs that put them close to other people. Another theory hinges on daycare challenges. Plenty of daycares are still closed or at partial capacity due to social distance measures. As a result, more parents are staying home so they can care for their young children.

There’s also a theory of COVID protocol fatigue. One of my friends has loved her job as a French immersion Kindergarten teacher for the past 15 years. She has never considered quitting…until recently. For the past two years, she has taught her five-year-old students online, and more recently in person at school. But she still has to wear a mask. And that’s wearing her out, physically and emotionally. Plenty of teachers around the country have quit and said, “That’s enough.”

Yesterday, I spoke to fifty-five-year-old Dawn Lani. She’s a post office worker in Beach Haven, New Jersey. “I enjoy my job,” she said. “But I’ve been working 62 hours a week because we can’t find enough help.” We chatted about the shortage of willing workers and then I asked, “How do you think they can afford to stay at home?” 

There’s no single answer to this question. Some are scraping by on unemployment benefits. Others could be living on savings or investments, especially with the stock market at an all-time high. But Dawn had another thought. “I think a lot of people might be living on their home equity,” she said.  “The soaring real estate market might be allowing some people to take out loans and live off that for now. I wouldn’t do that. But I was tempted to take advantage of my home’s soaring value.”

Dawn asked a real estate agent to appraise her home in Barnegat Township, New Jersey.

Using data from realtor.com, Forbes writer Chris Morris says home prices in the United States increased nationally by more than 17 percent over the 12 months ending April 2021. Dawn’s home was no exception. “When I saw how much the home was worth, I decided to sell it,” she says.

The agent listed Dawn’s home on a Friday. The next day, she had five offers–all above the asking price. She eventually sold it for $245,000. That was almost twice what she paid for it twelve years before.

A recent empty-nester, Dawn struggled financially to raise four kids as a single mom. Recalling those days she says, “My kids had to drink powdered milk and eat a lot of fish sticks.”

But what Dawn did next might epitomize, at least in spirit, what has happened to a large contingent of the American public. It might explain, better than anything else, why so many employers can’t find workers. Simply, people might be waiting for something better. That might be better wages. It might be better working conditions or improved benefits. Perhaps, the pandemic made people more aware that life can be short.

For her part, Dawn Lani didn’t quit her job. But after selling her house, she and her boyfriend began renting a home with another couple. “I feel so free,” she said, “because I don’t have a mortgage now. I gave my son all of my furniture.  I have a lump of savings in the bank from the home sale. My share of the rent is only $300 a month, and I get to live across the street from the bay. I also have so few bills now that I’m able to save 30 percent of my income.” 

Dawn plans to collect her post office pension when she’s 59 years old. She wants to travel throughout the United States and spend time with her adult children and grandchildren. So maybe, just maybe, Dawn’s story exemplifies what so many people want: something better. And in the eyes of many, that might be worth waiting for.

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