Opinion | How to solve the worker shortage? Improve pay and other conditions. – The Washington Post

To understand what’s happening in the U.S. labor market — where employers added 678,000 jobs last month yet continue to complain they can’t find enough help — consider stories like that of Austin Goodson.
When a recruiter reached out to Goodson, 25, about an opportunity in the chemical tank industry, the Houston resident initially passed. He’d been with his job only a few months, and he didn’t want to move on. But then Goodson kept thinking about better pay for fewer hours.
He starts his new job next week.
Or there’s Peter Contreras. Frustrated with long workweeks, the 38-year-old left a salaried management role at a suburban Los Angeles furniture store for a commissioned sales position with mattress purveyor Sit-’n-Sleep. Not only is he earning more, but his commute — previously more than an hour each way — is less than 10 minutes. At his old job, Contreras said, “I’d leave and my kids were asleep. I’d come home and my kids were asleep.” Recently, his new boss allowed him to come in an hour late so he could catch his youngest daughter’s basketball game. Another time, he was able to leave early to attend a dinner for his eldest daughter’s soccer league.
In the big picture, while the U.S. economy is adding lots of jobs, inflation is at a 40-year high, and wages are generally not keeping pace. So workers are moving on. A Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday found that the top reasons people quit a job in 2021 were low pay and no advancement opportunities to earn higher pay. More than half of respondents said their new position pays more and that they enjoy a better work-life balance.
As Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, tweeted in January, what many consider the Great Resignation is actually “the Great Upgrade.”
Jennifer Rubin: Workers quitting rotten jobs is a good thing
Expect workers to take advantage of pandemic-era disruptions to keep seeking improvements — unless, that is, bosses from small-business owners to Fortune 500 CEOs get better about giving employees what they want.
The typical restaurant worker earns about $18 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — up 14 percent over the course of 2021. But that pay isn’t so generous when you consider that those employees might work only a few hours a week, though they are expected to be available with little notice. The Fight for $15 movement needs a caveat: $15 an hour is only (and barely) a living wage when one receives it for 40 hours a week. And, yes, the industry can afford to pay more. Profits at McDonald’s were up 59 percent in 2021 from a year earlier.
Catherine Rampell: The job market is booming. So why doesn’t it feel like it?
Then there’s the trucking industry. The matter, counter to the industry line, is not a lack of apprenticeship programs to train millennials and Gen Zers to be drivers. It’s deregulation, dating back to the Carter and Reagan eras, that turned stable, middle-class jobs into precarious ones. Many truckers are classified, wrongly, as independent employees and are paid not by the hour but by the load. They don’t receive benefits and are responsible for their expenses. The long hours and low pay are contributing to the epic backlog at the nation’s ports: There aren’t enough truckers to help move the backed-up goods.
Nursing homes are another problem area. A survey last September by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living found that only 1 percent of nursing homes said they were fully staffed — and a solid majority said the situation was worsening. It’s highly unlikely to be a coincidence that in 2020, the median salary for nursing assistants was $30,850, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Turnover among nursing home workers, as in many low-wage industries, was high before the pandemic. But the stream of workers that kept things going pre-covid is drying up. Immigration to the United States is declining. The baby boomers, many flush with stock market and housing gains, are retiring. The birthrate is falling. Women’s participation in the workforce remains lower than before the pandemic, partly as a result of covid’s impact on school schedules and child-care options.
Churn among workers today isn’t about people slacking off and living on expanded unemployment benefits (much of which dried up months ago). Employees, newly emboldened, are voting with their feet. They want steady hours, steady paychecks and a life outside of work. If their current employer won’t give them all that, they are searching for ones who will.
It shouldn’t be hard to fix some of the labor market’s problems — if, that is, employers want to do more than bellyache. Companies large and small need to share profits more equitably. The subpar treatment of workers has been a hole in the heart of the American economy for decades. Now those workers are pushing back. Imagine that.
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