Let’s Call High Unemployment What It Is: A Strike

Workers don’t want to come back to low pay, no benefits, long hours, and grumpy customers. Why should they?

As the American economy digs out from the devastating financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the result has proved a patchwork of unmet expectations, high unemployment, inflation, and plummeting consumer confidence.

To the dashed hopes of optimistic economists, the U.S. financial engine has not rebounded as fast as some predicted. Sluggish, and more than slightly unpredictable, the economy has begun to recover though.

There are still challenges for U.S. businesses, and plenty of them.

The confusing network of disparate Covid-19 restrictions — varying wildly from county to county and state to state — and the absolute nightmare of public messaging about the pandemic haven’t done struggling U.S. businesses any favors over the past 18 months.

Outdoor shelters, improved sanitation methods, social distancing measures — most businesses have tried hard to comply with ever-changing guidelines that often seemed arbitrary and have become politicized.

Businesses are now facing even more difficult choices: Ease up on mask mandates and alienate their progressive clientele? Or maintain a hard line on masking, or even embrace vaccine passports, and alienate those with a more conservative or libertarian bent?

Vaccine passports, however well-intentioned, are also likely to further marginalize already-marginalized populations who aren’t healthy enough for the vaccine, or who hail from communities with a historic mistrust of government authorities.

Each business must consider the fact that their competitors might make a different, and more lucrative, call.

The wrong decision at this point could mean the difference between a business surviving post-pandemic and failing, just before the finish line.

American companies have other problems, too. Good help isn’t just hard to find these days; it’s almost impossible. U.S. businesses, in an attempt to lure back the as-yet unemployed, are getting desperate.

A company in Texas is offering $14,000 a week to drive a truck. For a driver with their own truck, a commercial license, and a scant two years’ experience, a yearly sum of three-quarters of a million dollars isn’t too shabby at all.

A McDonald’s is offering free iPhones to anyone willing to work there for six months.

What do these companies have in common?

They’re all dressed up with everywhere to go… and no one to work the cash register. “Help Wanted” signs are becoming as ubiquitous as the “Closed Due to Covid” signs they are replacing.

American business are poised on the cusp on one of the most productive fiscal quarters they are likely to see in decades — if they can take advantage of it.

People are tired of shopping on Amazon. They are sick of staying home. The weather is improving, vaccination numbers are going up, spenders are spending, and there are only 205 shopping days till Christmas.

Whether or not all our favorite local chain stores, boutiques, retail outlets, restaurants, outlet malls, movie theaters, mom and pop stores, and gallerias survive the great purge of 2020/2021 will depend on how well they are able to capitalize over the next few months.

How well companies are able to capitalize on the next few months depends on any number of factors. Chief among them is whether or not that business is able to find enough employees to fill empty positions.

And whether they, or their competitors, will make the more generous offer, most likely to entice qualified candidates away from their still-lavish government benefits.

Who will make potential employees an offer they can’t refuse?

Companies need trucking. The trucking company with enough drivers should have all the work it needs to make hay while the sun shines night and day over the next six months.

Trucking companies with no one to drive their trucks will be driven out of business instead. Turning away paying customers isn’t generally the way it’s done in a successful commercial enterprise.

And with this hard truth all businesses must face over the next few months, potential employees, considering a return to in-person work after an extended hiatus, have potential employers over the proverbial barrel.

Businesses need workers, and badly. Many unemployed don’t necessarily need jobs — at least not yet. Not when extended unemployment benefits have given the working class the ultimate bargaining chip.

It isn’t sink or swim for American businesses; that ship sailed with the extended shutdowns. Now, it’s sink or soar. The dollar signs that will soon be flashing in the eyes of every business owner and corporate CEO will make them all the more eager for enough hands to mange all those eagerly ringing cash registers.

But even white-collar workers, faced with returning to in-person work without the possibility of the telework options they have become so accustomed to over the past year and a half, are quitting rather than returning to the status quo.

Learning how effective they could be working from home has made these employees all the more determined to hang on to that benefit post-Covid. The appeal of the 70-hour work week, it would seem, is limited.

The same can be said of blue-collar workers as well. Long hours, low pay, few benefits; if the working class is using Covid-19 emergency measures as a jumping-off point to start negotiations for a livable wage, more generous benefits, and flexible working hours, can anyone really blame them?

In the past decades, we have seen a technological wave of wonder in the U.S. which has reverberated around the world and created a lucrative new industry out of thin air. It was a gold rush, an oil boom. With all this newfound wealth, technocratic oligarchs — though they talk a good game on progressivism — have only made the wealth gap worse.

Like the robber barons of yesteryear, like the oil-rich sheiks of today, nouveau riche tech companies have done a terrible job of spreading the wealth to the populace through adequate compensation for employees and community stakeholders.

They, and other U.S. businesses less complicit in the wealth gap, are being held to account by the working class, aided and abetted by their government.

It isn’t passing an increase in the minimum wage via the democratic process. It isn’t pretty.

But if it achieves a more livable wage in America, some will consider the means appropriate to the ends.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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