Pay me, why no one wants to work…

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    You hear employers lamenting constantly that “no one wants to work.”  Is that actually true?

    On the surface, it appears to be the case, with “Help Wanted” signs covering the windows at every fast-food franchise, retail outlet, and traditional restaurant. You notice them in other places as well, most often in school districts, and hospitals.


    Where you don’t see them is in high-paying positions, with excellent benefits, even if it’s in a competitive industry. Why is that?

    Are the young people of today lazy, unmotivated, and content to live in their parents’ basement for the rest of their lives? The talking heads of conservative news spread that image with conviction, but no, it does not reflect reality, as most of their rhetoric fails to do. It’s overblown, overstated, and not the case at all.

    Businesses that thrive pay their employees well. They offer benefits, including retirement, vacation, and medical insurance, and they have waiting lists of prospective hires waiting for an opening.

    When you expect skilled, competent labor, but pay minimum wage, you’ll always have a shortage of employees.


    The free-market system that Americans profess to believe in works both ways. (except for retail gasoline and diesel suppliers who maintain high prices no matter the market) If supply is high, prices and wages are low. If supply is short, prices rise, and wages follow. At least that’s how it worked until recently.

    Short supply still means higher prices, and a shortage of skilled workers means a higher starting salary, at least in theory.

    At present, there are 1.2 million teaching vacancies in the United States. The nursing shortage isn’t as drastic, but a quarter of the nation’s 5,000,000 nurses will retire in the next five years. Currently, there are approximately 200,000 nursing vacancies each year.


    Lest you think it is a “blue state versus red state” problem as those that seek to keep us angry, separated, and easier to manipulate want, the top five states by percentage of nursing openings are Washington, Georgia, California, Oregon, and Michigan.

    If your tinfoil hat is firmly attached, I’m sure you can see a left or right lean to these states somehow, but it isn’t political. It is entirely economics, mixed with administrative mismanagement, litigation hovering like vultures, and overall disrespect that have classrooms, emergency rooms, and physician’s offices scrambling for warm bodies to fill open positions.

    A few decades ago, that wasn’t the case. Young people looked to teaching and nursing careers in droves. I’ve mentioned it in previous columns, but my first teaching position in Lusk had 700 inquiries, and 170 formal applications for a social studies position, with six preps that included coaching football and track, officiating lower-level home basketball games, and sponsoring various clubs.


    It paid $13,000 a year, with another 10% for those extra duty assignments, which seems ridiculous today. In 1980 versus 2024 dollars, it works out to a salary of $51,623 annually, not much off the present scale in most districts across the nation.

    What happened? Ronald Reagan happened.

    His 1983 A Nation at Risk Study created the bloated, standardized test curriculum and effectively scapegoated teachers as the problem. Classroom teachers lost creative control of how they taught children. Specialists who never set foot in a classroom mandated how, what, and when they would teach, and morale plummeted.

    That’s just the downward slide in the public education sector. In the private world of franchises, chain stores, corporate medicine, brand names, and globalized markets the salaries of CEOs increased 1500 percent since 1980. The salary of an average worker grew just 18%, well below the inflation rate.

    Is there a disparity in the American economy? Answer that one yourself and consider how much money people dump into political campaigns when the purported salary is just a fraction of the cost of campaigning.

    But, but, but what about the digital workforce? Skilled, high-demand, highly intelligent men and women are needed to keep the booming infrastructure of the modern web-based economy running.

    They’re a commodity, just like everything else when the goal of a corporation is CEO benefits, coupled with shareholder dividends. That’s why they outsource to India, Korea, and the Philippines for support, and hire multitudes of English-speaking engineers from these same countries.

    As a retired IT director, I keep track of current hiring practices. No, definitely not because I want to run fiber, configure switches, and support users 24/7 as the job now demands, but because I like to follow trends.

    If an advertisement appears with a generous salary, superb working conditions, and adequate benefits a few dozen to a few hundred people will apply. This is where the subterfuge begins.

    They’ll walk into a large conference room, take a seat, and be faced with up to 30 people on the interview committee. If you see this situation, you should just thank them and leave before the interview begins. It’s a setup.

    The only reason managers, administrators, and directors have hiring committees that large is to dilute the vote and influence of individuals in the process. After 30 people express their opinions, the odds against consensus are extremely long.

    What can the admin do except “go with their instincts,” and hire their preference, invariably the guy or gal who is already in the organization? It’s all just a ruse, designed to fulfill corporate “policy” but circumventing it to hire their friend. It wastes the time of the other people applying for the job and often weakens their current position when their manager learns that they’re looking elsewhere.

    Unskilled workers are expected to be happy with a minimum wage position. Why aren’t people flocking to jobs that pay $15,950 a year? That’s what a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year at Wyoming’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour means.

    In my final two summers as a college student, I earned $9 an hour, plus five hours of overtime at $13.50 per hour as a construction worker. That’s $1550 per week in today’s dollars. Yes, they had tons of applicants, but they only hired two of us. It was hard work, but I graduated with no debt and a new car. Imagine that today.

    The local big box store has it figured out. They’ll pay a higher starting wage, but limit workers to 30.5 hours per week to avoid providing benefits mandated by federal legislation.

    Not to worry, the CEO compensation of the major retail outlets are the highest in the world.

    What to do? Call your representative or senator? Good luck, they’re too busy dialing for dollars to the very corporate entities that created this impasse to ruin their personal revenue streams.

    Go on strike? Unless you’re a teamster, that won’t work either. Corporations spend vast amounts of money keeping workers pitted against each other, using the eternally effective divide-and-conquer strategy to prevent unionization.

    The working and middle class that would benefit from collective bargaining are converted by anti-union rhetoric that wraps religion, patriotism, and individuality into carefully arranged packaging.

    This is all by design, and it is amazingly effective.

    That’s why many young people are opting out, living in their parent’s basement, playing X-box, and picking up a few bucks here and there inside the gig economy.

    There has to be a better way. Until one arrives, those help-wanted signs, limited open hours, and bankrupted businesses will continue to be the way of the land.


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