Lack of low-wage workers... where have they gone?

So I’m aware of the various reasons people might not choose to work a low-paying job- poor conditions, low pay, lack of autonomy, economic boosts due to stimulus checks, etc…

But what I’m trying to figure out is where they went? Were there really so many unfilled higher paying/better conditions jobs out there, that all those people were able to transition into something better? Was it more a matter of some unusually large chunk of people retired early and/or died due to COVID, freeing up positions, and creating a cascade of positions opening up down the chain? Is it merely a temporary thing, enabled by stimulus check money that will go back to normal once that’s gone? Is it something else? Some combination of all those things?

I mean, I see it EVERYWHERE that there are low wage jobs- retail stores, fast food restaurants, and so on. All these sorts of places are struggling to get and (I assume) retain workers. But the question that I have is what are their other options that are attractive enough to prevent them from having to work low wage jobs?

I’m curious- I mean, I understand not wanting to work a crappy low paying job, but I was always under the impression that most people didn’t choose to do that, they basically had to in order to keep the lights on, and food on the table. But they’re apparently not working those jobs anymore… so what did they move on to doing?

Working for shit with little to no benefits is one thing, but when you throw Covid-19 and employer’s lack of protecting said workers into the mix…

This is a lot of it, I believe.

“Quits” have been unusually high for awhile, with an amazing 4.3 million people quitting their job in August.

Some folks that have been forced to remain at home due to child-care or health-related reasons have found that one working spouse is sufficient.

Also with a very tight labor market the highest-paying and most-attractive jobs get filled first. Those are typically not your fast food and retail jobs.

You can find some anecdotes here:

They tend to align with the idea of “quitting a shitty job because you are confident you can find a better one”.

Remote work has also opened up opportunities that were completely unavailable just two years ago.

Sure, but that just explains why they don’t want to work those jobs, not what alternatives they have.

That’s what I’m puzzled by- for the segment of the population who worked/works low wage jobs, what are the current more attractive alternatives to those jobs?

That’s pretty much the answer.

Firstly, a lot of people died, not all of whom were retired or unemployed. There are some studies that show front line workers were disproportionally likely to get COVID, and die from it.

Secondly, a lot of people did retire, something like 2 million more than was expected for 2020, because they didn’t want to deal with COVID’s effects on the workplace, and they had a better option.

Thirdly, a lot of people used their unexpected time off to go to school to improve their job options.

Fourthly, a lot of people discovered that they can survive without these jobs, and the attendant hassles of dealing with entitled bosses and asshole customers.

And probably several other factors.

It’s pretty much a perfect storm of “Fuck this job”. Any one of those things would have disrupted at least some businesses, but all of them at the same time? BOOM!

Oh, it’s typically a “next-best job” kind of thing. You were working as a busboy? Congrats now you’re a waiter. You were a waiter? Now you are a wait-staff manager.

Construction jobs, painting jobs, landscaping jobs, you name it there are offers. Apparently trucking companies have been luring away construction works (who often have commercial licenses).

I doubt there’s one cause.

I’m not an American, so I’m probably missing something. A lack of immigration (due to COVID) is probably one reason. Every year in many countries in the west, temporary immigrants work on farms, as truckers in the UK, etc.

I suspect some younger people have simply quit work, made no effort to find a job and are living off of their parents. “It’s so hard to find a job.” I very much doubt these people are going on welfare: while welfare in Canada is more generous than in the US (and the risk of getting kicked off welfare here is almost non-existent), the amount of pay is pretty terrible. (Roughly $700 CAD a month where I live. Cheap student accommodation with roommates is about $800 per month. Just rent, water, heat, and electricity.)

I suspect some older people threw up their hands and went on social security (or OAS/CPP, Canadian equivalents, or National Insurance, which I think is the British equivalent). I see that someone else mentioned that (while I was typing).

In Canada, the unemployment rate has dropped to the same level as before the pandemic. There’s a lot of quitters, yes, but they either found equivalent or better jobs, or previously unemployed people found work. I suspect a few businesses got new hires as people quit due to COVID and desperate people took their jobs (and aren’t about to let go, obviously).

Canada terminated the majority of its COVID income programs last month. There’s still a few for businesses that are being affected by COVID, however, since there’s still restrictions.

Just so you know, it’s not just low-wage workers that are in demand and in short supply. There are some very well-paid jobs out there that are also feeling the crunch in trying to find folks to fill them.

Answers vary. At the low end of the scale, I figure many people are either not working after building up some resources during Covid wrt unemployment and other things like the stimulus, or they are going to more gig work…working just as much as they need to in order to get by. Add in how soul-crushing those jobs can be, even for the kids who are often the ones doing them, you have the fear of Covid.

Just as an example of this, and I seriously doubt we are the only parents doing this, we have 2 of our kids who have moved back in. The youngest one was working at the standard fast-food type job while going to school. We told her she didn’t need to do that and we’d prefer she didn’t in fact, so she quit that job, despite the fact they gave them all raises to try and keep them on.

Then you have the shortages in higher-end wage jobs. I think a lot of this was from older people who simply retired or decided it wasn’t worth it. I know that in many of our own agencies there are shortages due to other agencies in the state or even other states basically poaching from our people due to their own shortages. This has had a cascade effect, where we are doing the same thing…which means that of the still available personnel they can pick and choose jobs and salaries. Myself, I’ve been recruited by 4 counties in my own state and several in neighboring states, and in my department, I’d guess every one of my people has too.

So, it’s a complex situation going on across the wage spectrum. One I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate or understand what’s happening or how it will affect them going forward.

I work for a large company that pays well with good benefits. We are hiring a LOT of people that never would have stood a chance pre-covid.

So there’s at least one data point.

What anti-Covid measures does your company take?

There’s also the gig economy - driving passengers and doing deliveries can pay as well as, or better than, fast food or basic retail; and offers much more flexibility.

Our company mandated vaccines about a month before Joe Biden did.

Before that we had what was called layered protections: Employees were split off into two groups. Group A could only hang out in certain break rooms, and use a dedicated entrance and a separate exit. Same for group B. Everyone was screened at the door by security. Also, if you came down with symptoms, you had to quarantine for two weeks with paid time off.

They also gave everybody 100 hours of time bank (vacation time) as a thank you for working.

I functionally lost my (higher paying) work due to a COVID hiring freeze. I took early retirement from that position, though I’m still teaching a class or two without benefits. Despite the freeze being an institutional decision, my programs are understaffed.

A large number of my students aren’t working, so a lot of campus services are shuttered or reduced. They don’t want to interact directly with lots of other people so they seem to have more financial support from their families.

Three of my clients have died (possibly sped up by delays in cancer care), so they left their jobs as well.

Having a colorful job history with large gaps, and having narrowed jobs I apply for to ‘I can do this job and it will not make me suicidal’, I applied to a lot of minimum wage jobs before Covid. Then, I got a remote job making a little more than twice minimum wage. The current job is evil (I started a thread on that) but I can use my good record at it to get another remote job paying a similar or greater wage. Why would I apply to a job paying less and where I have to deal with retail customers?

Definitely not that. The stimulus money was long ago and not that much, certainly no one is still living off of it. The unemployment bonuses were a bigger factor in sustaining people because those were much longer term, but that dried up at least 2 months ago everywhere and before that in a lot of states. Every right wing person likes to claim that no one works because of government dole, but that’s just not showing itself - the ceasing of unemployment benefits (either boosted and/or easier to get) doesn’t seem to have had a substantial impact on people returning to work.

This is, in a way, sort of a broad, low key strike. COVID has really amplified how much people are sick of the current state of affairs. Rents have gone up significantly - in some places doubling over the last few years - and yet people are still somehow expected to get by on $9/hr. The proposal to raise the federal minimum wage - real legislation that could’ve helped people - was once again basically laughed off as some wild idea while we pump trillions into people who are already rich.

Everyone saw through all that “essential workers are the real heroes!” bullshit that people were fed to convince them to keep working despite requiring them to put their lives on the line and deal with even more aggressive pieces of human garbage all day. Imagine - not only does your job suck more because you’re now risking death and permanent illness from long COVID every time you go into work, but you might get attacked or verbally assaulted by some adult child throwing a tantrum because you were required to tell them to put their masks on. Meanwhile your rent has gone up 70%, you can’t afford to live, and the people who just made slick commercials calling you the real heroes, the essential workers, but of course - will that translate into better pay so you can pay for your quickly increasing rent? Oh, no, of course not. Isn’t calling you an essential worker hero enough? Hey, maybe at the end of the year we’ll have a pizza party.

People are just fucking sick of this shit and I can’t blame them. Though I don’t know how they’re living somewhere and feeding themselves while this works itself out.

Maybe a lot of them went to work at Amazon…

The company has been on a hiring spree since the start of the pandemic, bringing on 500,000 employees in 2020.

…or started working in the gig economy (DoorDash, Uber, etc.) As @zimaane mentions.

FYI for non-Americans: Social Security is not available to the general population until age 62.

Where I live, coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants of widely variable quality are popping up like mushrooms, and in many cases disappearing almost as rapidly, and being unable to find workers is only part of the equation. Among other things, why would someone take a job if the hours are irregular, they aren’t even sure if they’re going to be paid, and who knows if the job will even exist in a month or two?

So many people in my area are working some variation of the gig economy, my landlord now allows people to sign up for a service where they can pay their rent as they have the money. As long as it’s paid by the end of the month when it’s owed, there are no surcharges or penalties.

That’s basically my original post, just succinctly put in two sentences. That’s why I’m so perplexed- I didn’t think there was enough slop in the job market to accommodate so many low-wage workers deciding to do something else en masse, and I figured the stimulus money had run out. And the other options I could think of seemed to be too small scale to account for it.

I guess the follow-on thread will be whether this state of affairs will continue- can people continue to make enough money in the gig economy once the pandemic is completely done? I mean, my wife and I have been among the more paranoid during the pandemic, and now that we’re vaccinated, even we’re willing to shop in person with masks on. I don’t see myself using many of the gig delivery services anymore, now that I can go buy stuff in person.

Lots of employers say they are hiring, but are not. If they “can’t find workers” they don’t have to pay back the PPP loans.