How many stories have you read lately about restaurant owners bemoaning the fact that they can’t find employees for their shitty, often part-time jobs that often come with no benefits? These restauranteurs, whose woe-is-me stories have been lifted up by Republican leaders eager to cast a modest level of government support as the evils of socialism, tend to blame the same culprit. Their trouble finding workers, they say, isn’t due to more valid factors, like the fact that women are still struggling to find childcare or the reality that people still living through a pandemic aren’t willing to put their health on the line to be paid in measly tips in a terrible job where they’re not provided health insurance. No, to these suffering business owners, enhanced unemployment benefits are too high, and higher than the wages they pay their workers.
Perhaps the solution to this “problem” is pay people a living wage and improve working conditions? Just some free advice from a former waiter!
Apparently, President Joe Biden has embraced a similar line of thinking. On Monday, he had a helpful message for bosses: people will want to work for you “if they’re paid a decent wage.”
Via the New York Times:
In remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden sought to shift the focus from a federally enhanced unemployment benefit — which critics say has fueled a labor shortage that is holding back the job market — and onto American corporations. He said companies need to help workers get vaccinated and to pay them more, after receiving $1.4 trillion in Covid-19 relief from the federal government over the past year.
Mr. Biden called on companies to “step up” by helping workers access vaccines and raising wages. “We also need to recognize that people will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage,” he said.
While I personally think it’s more than okay if people who have been paid poverty wages for years spend their time on unemployment recovering from the brutalities of the past year and possibly even enjoying their lives as much as possible—everyone deserves a vacation!—economic data also doesn’t suggest there really is a widespread labor shortage. Instead, it’s employers that are taking advantage of the weak economy by offering low ball salaries, who are to blame. As the Economic Policy Institute’s director of policy Heidi Shierholz wrote recently, “Employers post their too-low wages, can’t find workers to fill jobs at that pay level, and claim they’re facing a labor shortage. Given the ubiquity of this dynamic, I often suggest that whenever anyone says, ‘I can’t find the workers I need,’ she should really add, ‘at the wages I want to pay.’”
But this hasn’t stopped Republicans from doing their best to make the lives of workers, especially those who have benefited from enhanced unemployment benefits, as mean and miserable and stressful as possible. Case in point: the Republican governors of Montana and South Carolina have announced recently that they will shortly be cutting off their states’ residents from enhanced federal unemployment benefits, all in an effort to get people back to jobs where their bosses pay them poverty wages.
And while Biden struck a positive worker’s rights note on Monday, he also stressed that workers who turned down what he called a “suitable” job offer would lose their unemployment benefits. As a statement the White House released put it, the Department of Labor will work with states that suspended work search requirements during the pandemic to “put in place appropriate work search requirements as the economy continues to rebound, vaccinations increase, and the pandemic is brought under control.” As the National Employment Law Project noted in 2017, “States are disqualifying workers for reasons unrelated to the cause of their unemployment (especially work search) at much higher rates than ever before, reaching a denial rate of about one out of every four claims filed.”
Just another way that states make it difficult for workers to receive their benefits, and one that ideally the DOL will push to ease.