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

FWIW, a timely anecdote. I ended up having a debate with someone about this recently while having lunch at a restaurant, with it being made clear they were treating me. There was a large sandwich board type sign out front stating help was wanted. When the person I was with was told we couldn’t eat in the section she desired because they only had one server for it and we’d have to sit in another ( either section was just fine by me ), it kicked off a whole litany of “people are just lazy and want to sit at home and collect free money” of her pontificating. Our server was always apologizing for things taking slightly longer, but to me it was no big deal. Had a great meal and the service was good. Said person paid the tab, but I had a notion the tip would be skimpy, so I laid a fiver on the table as well.

We get outside, and said person who treated us said “they say you should tip 15 or 20 percent, but I don’t do that. I think it’s silly”. I was annoyed, showed it slightly but was civil and said “As you may or may not already know, they are deliberately underpaid, in the neighborhood of like two dollars and fifteen cents and hour, with the expectation of tips making up the difference”. I added that I think tipping IS a stupid custom made pretty much “mandatory” in the US, and that they should be paid a flat rate, like say in Europe. “How much?” was the reply. “A living wage” was my retort. “OK, but why should WE have to make up for that to pay for their wages?”. “What’s the difference? We do anyway when we go to their goddamned restaurants! It’s just that the house pays less”. “Oh, yeah, I guess that’s true, but if they don’'t like the pay, why don’t they quit and do something else?”. I motion toward the help wanted sign. Said person Did Not see the irony.

This sounds reasonable, but we should recognize that the new equilibrium could simply price certain services out of existence. There are a LOT of labor jobs that aren’t done any more because they aren’t worth the price we’d have to pay for them, because as a society we have gotten wealthier so there are some things people just won’t do for the kind of money that would make them worth doing.

Maybe we are headed for a day when people would be shocked at the notion of ‘servers’ waiting on other humans, consdering it to be demeaning work, and only the fanciest restaurants will offer human service. Maybe the entire fast food model will become delivery and pickup only, with one or two people per restaurant employed to manage the automation and drivers.

Don’t take anything for granted. When you apply a shock to a complex system it will seek a new stable point or equilibrium, but there’s no guarantee you’ll like it.

And I’m actually okay with that. If these industries only survive on the back of untold human suffering, then replacing them is a net benefit. I for one would love it if we could get robots to do all the crap work.

But what @Sam_Stone was talking about didn’t necessarily have anything to do with suffering or “crap work.” Just because some jobs are “not worth the price we’d have to pay for them” doesn’t mean they’d be at all unpleasant for the person doing them.

To the point being made about restaurants - there is one pizza place in my town that recently closed their long-time restaurant and moved into a strip mall to a much smaller location - appears they just need a place with a decent-sized commercial kitchen, and the dining room not-so important. No need for the expensive real-estate of a dining room when perhaps the majority of their business is take-out and delivery. I am not sure how much that impacted their staffing needs, but I gather this strategy may be catching on more now that people are dining “out” less.

If the businesses can’t charge enough to stay open if the workers get paid enough to want the jobs, that means they’re currently not paying enough for the workers to actually live on. So, yeah, the job itself might not suck, but not being able to have a life still means the business is built on human suffering.

Hell, I’d love to be paid to pet kittens all day, but there’s no way I’d be able to pay the mortgage that way.

Really? What if the alternative for those workers is worse?

In a free market, the definition of a job not worth doing is one for which you can’t find anyone to do at a price that is profitable. If I offer a job for X money and someone takes it, the assumption is that they took it because it was the best alternative for them. YOU may think they are being ‘exploited’, but who are you to make decisions like that for others?

I am against the minimum wage, because it destroys information and prices out some activities that people are willing to do for a lower price but other people have decided to forbid ‘for their own good’. And it’s not necessary, because wages are set by the market.

For example, I am not against the current wage increases, even though many of them are going way above minimum wages for previously minimum wage jobs. The difference is that the current wave of increases is being driven by market fundamentals and reflect the underlying reality, unlike minimum wages laws which are essentially fiat decisions.

You do realize, don’t you, that in all but a relative handful of countries, human suffering is the norm. You sound like the people who rail against companies “taking advantage” of women in 3rd-world countries, “forcing” them to work long hours for low wages – not realizing that for some of those women, working long hours for low wages is actually better than the alternative.

I’m also one of the people who realizes we don’t have to just give up and accept that status quo for the rest of eternity.

I also support replacing all the shitty third-world jobs with robots.

I just recognize that, like every other technological innovation in history, it will be the rich societies that will be able to afford to produce such innovations, and so will be the first to benefit from them. I also recognize that such technology always becomes cheaper over time, allowing more and more people to access it.

So, automate every McDonalds in North America. The rest of the world will follow in due time.

Aka Ghost Kitchens

Or will be when he starts making Asian and Mexican food with the leftover kitchen capacity.

I figured they all started Tik Tok and YouTube channels. If you can make more money posting funny clips of your cat, than flipping burgers, it’s a no-brainer.

I’m trying to teach my cat how to twerk.

The number of people who can make even a minimum wage on Youtube is a tiny fraction of the people who are trying to,do it. It’s much harder than you think, and not remotely a ‘no-brainer’.

I was being somewhat facetious. Some Tic Tok/YouTube posters/influencers do make good money, but that would not account significantly for the downward shift of low-wage workers.

That said, my cat’s twerking lessons are progressing well.

do you do cats? cause if ups aren’t too expensive I have a job for you …

lol my aunt has soo many pictures of empty Walmart shelves on her phone… at first she said " oh they’re just being lazy asses" like teenagers being sent to the store by mom

Then she went to the store herself a few times …

This is willful naivete to avoid looking at some of the embarrassing downsides of unregulated labor markets. Yes, we can often tell, using some pretty objective metrics, when workers are being exploited. The glibertarian economic assumption that anybody who voluntarily accepts a job is by definition not being exploited is deliberately denying the economic complexities of real-life work.

There are several threads that touch on this topic, but I’ll leave it here.

I just heard on Planet Money that only 6.6% of truck drivers are women. Excluding half the population (for reasons I’ll let others speculate about) from joining your workforce is really going to hurt an industry in tight labor markets.

I have the (potentially unpopular) opinion that even with perfect availability of jobs to both sexes, there will still be jobs that attract one sex over the other. I look forward to seeing if that’s the case.

I have no doubt that there is a level of systemic sexism in the trucking industry, but it also would not surprise me if there’s some self-selection going on, too.

As already noted upthread, trucking (particularly long-haul over-the-road trucking) is a job with very long hours, and can keep you away from home for days at a time. I can imagine that many women with families may be less willing to take on that sort of schedule and lifestyle.

FWIW, a good friend of mine is a woman, and a trucker, though she works at an intermodal yard, rather than over-the-road. Even though it’s a job in which she’s home every night, she tells me that she is usually the only woman on her shift, and that the general atmosphere there can be pretty crass, and the sort of language and behavior that would immediately get the attention of HR at most employers. She’s an Army vet, and has no issue with giving out insults as well as taking them – she really likes her job, but it’s clearly not the sort of job for everyone.

I see two sides to this.

The first is people leaving. As mentioned, some are retiring, some have decided to reply on a spouse, some have returned to their home countries.

The other bit is not enough people coming in. Lots of training programs for truck drivers and other things shut down, limiting the supply. Also, I suspect a lot of high school and college people are not working as parents feel better with them safe at home. Finally, there has been a reduction of all immigration.

It seems the Good Old Days of lots of cheap low-skill workers are over. Business built on that model are going to have a hard time.