The Nahployment 'Crisis'

Went to Popeye’s the other night, 8:15, it was Tuesday, 2-piece combo day - if you like Popeye’s, you know. Celebrating that there was only 1 car in line, I pull up only to find a sign saying they had to close because of lack of staff and their new hours are 11am-8pm until further notice. Dammit. Heart attack postponed! Settled on a Subway which had 1 person working, then swung by a Valero gas station where the woman I usually see at 8 am was still going at it 13 hours after I last saw her, one other co-worker in an operation which prefers 3 on staff at all time.

You may be seeing this phenomenon in your neck of the woods:


Here in San Antonio many restaurants and stores are struggling to stay open, having to do things they would not do pre-pandemic such as pay staff overtime, close early (or open late), and this is not limited to just the small guys - the local Walmart has reduced hours as well, electing not to go back to 24/7 hours even after Abbott lifted the COVID ban back in March or whatever.

I jokingly refer to this as “nahployment”, where people are saying “nah” to dedicating 40 hours every week of their life to some dead-end $8.25/hour (pre-tax), retail, restaurant, or other “starter” job, realizing they can gig and hustle their way to that oh-so-generous $330 in half the time with less stress and expense on their part. And, many times, no taxes.

There is not a lot of official data of this phenomenon, if it is happening, but the anecdotes across the country just keep piling up and they keep matching what I’m seeing here in South Central Texas: Minimum wage level jobs are becoming increasingly difficult to fulfill as that labor force is deciding not to return to those jobs.

My daughter is a perfect, and early, example of this - in 2017, at the age of 16, she got her first job @ Culver’s staying a year, only to quit early her Junior year in HS (2018), saying she didn’t want to be bothered any more with the low pay and sexual harassment.

Subsequently, to pay for her life, she:

  • Did photography shoots
  • Bought things off Ebay, resold them to her friends (she once bought a butt-ton of stickers for $25, sold them 3 for a $1 at the beginning of the school year, made a killing as well-heeled students bought her stickers to decorate their laptops and such)
  • Tutored younger students

I’m not going to say she never asks for money - being frugal, Sophia knows the value of Other People’s Money (OPM) better than most, and Dad is a prime source for OPM even if he is a cheapskate - but she has never lacked for money and her mother, who still has access to Sophia’s checking account, says she is doing quite well. (Sophia has a job now because of her Work Study requirements at St Johns, but is planning on quitting as soon as they allow her.)

She’s not the only one who does this. She’s merely one who figured this out early. And now it seems that it has taken so long to increase the minimum wage that (a) specific industries and business models are too used to their states current minimum wage levels, making it very difficult to these businesses to change to a higher-wage world, and (b) inflation and technological change has made it more valuable, in terms of quality of life and $ returned, for (maybe) millions of people to just hustle and mow lawns/shovel snow/resell Ebay stuff/day labor/contract work, more, than work as a W-2 employee for the minimum wage.

Where, for Sophia, is the incentive to run your cash register? Why would she want to buy clothes and makeup and transportation to be a part-time counter girl at Macy’s? She’s not limited to the old ways of doing things, and with cheap cell phones and data plans, neither are her friends or a lot of the people who, in earlier times, would be filling these jobs. Now? Now they just do online surveys for Amazon gift cards and use those instead of cash. Why work for the companies which want to pay a mere $8/hour and require transportation, uniforms, makeup, etc, when you can sit in your dorm room and Zoom tutor 3 high school kids in the same hour, on the same book report, for $15-25 each, using your free IG and Snap accounts to draw business nationwide?

There are those who argue that expanded unemployment benefits are causing this, and I have no problem conceding… for the percentage of unemployed which receive extended benefits… this plays a factor. But only some, as the extended benefits do end, at least here in Texas, adding 7 weeks to the states 13 weeks, making the extended benefit last 5 months:

They’re extended benefits. They’re not infinite benefits.

But the true impact wasn’t in not re-entering the workforce between weeks 13 and weeks 20, it was in giving these people time to explore other options than working for the Man for $8.75/hour, time which lower-income people usually are not given in America.

So what has happened… I think… is a combination of things. Technological change created an economic ecosystem which, because of inflationary pressures on an unchanging minimum wage, became competitive with minimum wage jobs even pre-pandemic. The pandemic + ensuing depression threw 20,000,000 lower paid people out of work who, even though they may be receiving UE benefits, are still productive and valuable human beings who don’t like being unproductive and they, in looking for other ways to earn money, stumbled upon this new economic ecosystem, both expanding it and exploiting it. Now, faced with the choice to go back, these very people are deciding not to, having already shifted their lives to using technology and hustling for that $320 which they would have worked for earlier. “Somebody else can stock Walmart, I got a sweet thing going with these Amazon cards” is a thing people are saying.

Anyway, are y’all seeing the same thing in your neck of the woods or with people you know? Are you seeing businesses changing their hours because of a lack of staff, bonuses being offered or the pay being jacked up, more? Are you seeing people who normally wouldn’t refuse to work a low paying job now refuse to work a low paying job?

I am fully aware that the above may just be some anecdata I cobbled together, but, to close, I’m not the only one who has noticed this phenomenon, so at least it is a shared illusion. :wink:

Went to Wendy’s the other day and there was a job application stuffed in the bag.

All they wanted was name, address, phone number, and 1 question, did I want to be a manager or worker( I forget the word they used). Then a blank chart of the week to tell them what hours I could work. Crazy.

I know there would be more to the process than that paper but wow. A check box to be a manager.

Ah, the market at work, which some employers are not happy about.
Here in the Bay Area I haven’t seen this problem. There are help wanted signs, but we had them all over before the pandemic also. Perhaps it is because our minimum wage is pretty high.
Companies know that they can get away with paying under market rates, since many people are creatures of habit and don’t fell comfortable changing jobs. The pandemic has knocked a lot of people out of their comfort zone.
BTW, you should be proud of your daughter. She’ll go far.

Quelle horreur!

Considering that food service has become an extremely high risk, essential job, I should hope that employers are pressured to offer better compensation and working conditions.

Always kind of fun to watch conservatives rail against the workings of the free market, in a schadenfreuderly-kind of way.

I think one reason food service is getting particularly hit hard is that the job requires an hour plus of cleaning/side work once you’re closed. Thus it makes a hard job even lousier. Whereas if you’ve switched to delivering for door dash, you just park the car when you’re done with the day. Maybe the delivery demand will let up as the country opens back up.

Had a similar experience to the OP last weekend— my wife and I were running errands, driving by a Taco Bell around lunchtime and I said I haven’t had a burrito supreme in years. My wife said she could go for tacos, so we pulled into the drive in. Again, like to OP, there was only one car in line ahead of us. A few cars in the lot too. Pulled up to the speaker, and nothing.

I get impatient right away, but my wife says relax, they’re probably understaffed and they’ll get to us. I keep saying something’s not right and she keeps saying to be patient, so I give it around 5 minutes, which doesn’t sound like a long time but it seemed interminable at the time. I finally said forget it, and at the window there’s a sign saying the restaurant is “closed due to unforeseen circumstances”.

er… >snort< guffaw… hee hee… ha… ha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA.

You so funny.

No, seriously, the employers are trying to figure out how they can automate away employees entirely.

Friend of mine does various different gigs of this kind and when he comes over in the evening he’ll kind of deliver his way here and back. A huge advantage of app gigs is being able to say “oh no, fuck that!” to any order–too small, too far, don’t wanna have to order-pay-wait rather than do a straight pickup, whatever. You’re working a straight job and fifteen drunk assholes and their straight up Karen driver roll up to your window being dicks and you are stuck with them for as long as they feel like tormenting you. Seriously, fuck that.

And I wouldn’t count on people losing their love of delivery food–there’s a lot to be said for getting fed without having to put on pants and go where there are (ugh!) people.

Thanks for the link at the end of your post, JohnT; this echoed and explored observations of my own:

Which was gratifying in a few ways to read and also led me to this Atlantic essay on workism which I found interesting:

“Others are scoffing at their bosses’ return-to-office mandates and threatening to quit unless they’re allowed to work wherever and whenever they want.

I’m a white collar worker and I’m seeing this too. Its not just people at the bottom end of the socioeconomic totem pole who are standing up to corporate abuse. People who have found that by working at home they get extra sleep, have a better work/life balance, save money, lower their carbon footprint, have more time for family or exercise are saying in large numbers that they are going to quit if they are forced to go back to the office.

Whether they will or not remains to be seen. But something has changed, and I’m not sure what or how. But workers both near the bottom and in the middle/lower middle are also starting to show a willingness to walk away from a bad situation.

The article mentions increased savings from working from home and not being able to go out. That could be part of it, yeah. Especially if those work at home parents were also able to watch the kids and didn’t need to pay for child care.

I don’t know the details, but apparently my dentist can’t find staffing. Had my appointment cancelled and postponed indefinitely due to understaffing.

My wife and I went out to lunch for the first time post covid. Our waitress mentioned she was working a 13 hour shift and she was the only one we saw. The fast food places in town were advertising $15/ hour before Covid so I’m not sure what more they could do since they are already paying more than entry level at the post office (which is having massive staffing problems).

Of course, on the other side of that my brother-in-law’s fiance went back to bartending as soon as she could because even with the initial boost unemployment was a pay cut for her. She’s been promoted to management at her bar and has a shot at 6 figures next year assuming a covid recovery.

Somewhere, Adam Smith and Karl Marx are shaking hands.

This is a hot topic in my town right now because the Starbucks has drastically reduced hours (wailing!) and a restaurant that opened in 2020 had to temporarily shut down too. I went to a Red Robin today about 25 minutes from where I live and it was closed for dine-in (but still doing carry-out).

People are so pissed that those people refuse to work and prefer to sit on their asses all day to collect unemployment! The nerve! Like if we were offered 75% of our normal pay, 100% guaranteed (remember tips aren’t guaranteed), and all we had to do was not go to work, who in their right mind would not take this deal?

I have no problem with this, myself. Before covid hit my friend was a server at the aforementioned Red Robin. She is high risk (T1 diabetes, heart patient) so she couldn’t work. Normally she’s not eligible for unemployment but thanks to PUA she got something. If she had wanted to go back to work (if she wasn’t high risk), well maybe she could have picked up some shifts but there were only so many tables open with reduced capacity, and so many customers coming in due to fear of catching covid, so there were only so many spots open on the schedule. If she did get on the schedule, would there be customers? I mean, lots of people are afraid of catching covid. And if everyone was hurting financially, would they be tipping well if they came out?

And the servers who were on the schedule today at Red Robin who gave up their PUA to come back to work, and didn’t get to work because not enough servers showed up? They’re probably pissed they took that route, for real.

Oh also in 2020 there was the matter of her kid’s school being shut down, so even if she wasn’t high risk, and even if there was a schedule spot for her, and even if there were customers to serve and even if they were good tippers…who would be home with her kid?

There’s so much more to this equation of “why can’t we keep the place staffed?” than “why are people so entitled and lazy?” The fault doesn’t lie entirely with the workers, if it lies with them at all.

I don’t know how the server’s story translates to Popeye’s or Starbucks but I’m guessing that just flat out is a matter of too-low-pay for too stressful work. Either the stress of angry anti-maskers, being in a small building full of maskless diners, or just the everyday stress of working fast food…can you blame them?

Gig/Delivery work is booming. Warehouse openings are booming. Nobody is trying to work in a sweaty kitchen being yelled at by customers for $8 an hour anymore. Good for them.

I’m sure it’s all made even more frustrating by the fact that for the last year everyone was God Blessing The Essential Workers. Not essential enough for a living wage, just essential enough for thoughts and prayers.

@ZipperJJ, thank you for a fantastic post.

We’re having trouble getting people to show up to interviews (more than usual), and the ones that do show up aren’t biting. The boss thinks it’s because our entry level job (more than minimum wage, full time, with some benefits) pays less ROI than pandemic unemployment benefits. I mean, you get more $$$ working but you also have to drive and commit the hours.

I can’t objectively say how much of it is because of gig working or unemployment and how much of it is because of the pandemic and its effects on childcare. One of our employees hired within the past couple months has missed, no exaggeration, over half of her work days because of COVID outbreaks at her kids’ daycare or school. (My sister just finished her quarantine due to a school outbreak but she is old enough to watch herself)

ETA: Oh, and until very very recently you had to do all of this while being unvaccinated. That was probably a factor, too.


I haven’t noticed any kind of staffing shortages anywhere around here in Olympia.

On what I’m sure is a completely unrelated note, Washington’s minimum wage is $13.69 and employers are required to provide paid sick leave.

The main problem with gig/free lance work is lack of good, effective, reasonably-priced health care coverage/insurance. I was a free lancer from 1988 until I retired about 5 years ago and NEVER had any kind of health insurance. Couldn’t afford it. Fortunately, I waited until I was on Medicare to get breast cancer-- needed surgery and radiation, no chemo. Medicare and my supplement covered every penny.

The childcare thing is big, too, although that was never an issue for childless me. In any case, as a free lancer I could take off whatever time I needed to care for my chronically ill (now late) husband, but of course, no work = no pay, as I charged and billed by the hour.

My bold.

Another major issue, certainly.

Let’s face it: in this country, we treat workers like crap. We need to go full-on socialism and create a solid safety net for everyone. And yeah, taxes have to go up to pay for it. Simple. And completely impossible in the USA because free-dumb. :angry: