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.