Short staffing: No one wants to work, but why?
By Danielle Christopher
Conditions have never seemed so feasible and employment there for the taking in the U.S. economic market. “Help wanted” signs are stuck to just about every business window and hundreds of jobs are posted on sites like Indeed. It leaves one wondering how so many people are still out of jobs.
COVID-19 robbed tens of millions of Americans of their jobs in 2020 or moved them home to work in isolation, but with this shift into a new normal, we see record high jobs available as well as hourly pay rising, in some sectors more than 10% in just one year. With dominating headlines and intense media coverage of labor shortages, such narratives have failed to identify the underlying issue of it all which is the phenomenon of a shortage of good jobs to begin with.
“The Great Reshuffle,” a term coined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, describes the phenomenon that has impacted the labor force. Hiring rates have outpaced quit rates since November 2020. Although so many workers are quitting their jobs, we do see that many others are getting re-hired somewhere else. Food service and hospitality industries are bearing one of the biggest burdens from the pandemic, as they require in-person attendance and boast lower wages with workers making “tips” and getting paid less hourly because of it.
Reinhardt junior, Sarah Sweet, who works as a server at a country club restaurant, spoke on the topic and said, “I have seen over 10 people come and go from this job within the past 4 months which is a crazy high turnover rate. We are still recovering from COVID, many customers and regulars are still worried about going out to eat, so there is just not enough business to go around. We make $2.13 an hour and that’s fine if we are making tips but when we aren’t making tips because no one is coming in, then it is just not worth the hassle.”
The leisure and hospitality industry has the highest quit rate of any other job sector, coming in at 4.5% higher—losing 1 million workers in November of 2021 but also hiring 1.2 million people into the industry in the same month.
The Eagle Eye also spoke to Clark Kent, a recent Reinhardt graduate who has taken up bartending in Atlanta. Working at one of the busiest bars on the Battery Strip, located in downtown Atlanta, he talked about how difficult it has been. “So, the business itself is very volatile. One night the managers can have too many people and some nights people don’t show up or call out or there is just not enough people scheduled…as well there isn’t a true two-week system where if you want to quit you have to put in 2 weeks, people just quit on a fly and you never see them again. The hiring process is basically if you have a pulse and can pass a background check you will get hired at any position you want or are needed at. I will say that I’ve trained about 14-18 people since I’ve worked here and maybe about 3-5 are still around.”
Another industry that has been so heavily affected by the pandemic is the healthcare sector. An article published in Health System Tracker outlined just how poorly COVID has affected healthcare, stating that the industry saw a sharp drop in both revenues and employment at the onset of the pandemic and has stayed consistent throughout the past two years. Health sector jobs have been relatively resistant to a recession, doctors and nurses have always been needed and we always hear the phrase, “you would never be out of a job,” when referring to the healthcare industry. Something many haven’t considered though is the toll that the pandemic has taken on healthcare workers.
Sara Baker, a 2019 graduate of Reinhardt spoke to the Eagle Eye about what it has been like to be a nurse in the time of a global pandemic. “COVID destroyed a lot of nurses’ love for the field, and it did it so quickly. Some days or nights we were working 1:20 which means that for every 20 patients there was one nurse which is outrageous considering the rule of thumb is 1:4-5 on intermediate units like mine and even lower rates in critical care units. There is so much room for error and mistakes and it’s like we can’t get nurses fast enough.” Baker also went on to say, “You are starting out with already lower levels of employment than you probably should have, and then on top of that you have a bunch of people calling out sick or needing to stay home to take care of kids who can’t go to school. That means there’s an even bigger problem on your hands.”
Another industry that not many people thought about during the pandemic was the performing arts. Performing arts saw a drastic loss of 45.4% of jobs and is an industry that is solely dependent on performers and spectators, both things that were taken away by COVID. No more box office premiers, no more red carpet for upcoming movies, and no more performing arts. For the past two years, performers have been unable to do what they love and that is especially damaging when it used to be a full-time job.
Reinhardt sophomore and performing arts major James Tilt spoke about the loss of performing arts due to the pandemic saying, “it is an industry that not a lot of people thought about when everything shut down except for those that were affected. A lot of people I knew that relied on the arts as their careers were scrambling and a lot of them turned to the food service industry which was also struggling during the pandemic. 2020 and 2021 were not a good time to have a career based around performing. Even Broadway, I don’t think, has shut down for more than a few days until COVID, shut down for over a year, so we lived through something that was unheard of. So many artists are still displaced and a lot of my friends who have been passionate about the field since they were young kids have quit it altogether because of what happened. I think the arts sector will have one of the biggest lasting impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s not due to not enough performers but rather due to a lack of shows and money to produce those shows.”
It is easy to say that nobody wants to work, but it is hard to realize that a lot of the work isn’t worth doing. So many industries have been affected by the pandemic and it ranges all the way from the food industry to performing arts to healthcare, which are all on different edges of the spectrum. After talking to students and graduates who are both watching labor shortages unfold and living and working through them, we have seen that often it isn’t a lack of people willing to work but rather a lack of good jobs to work at. It is true that a lot of Americans transitioned home and now would much rather stay there but there are still so many Americans who are eager to work and are being turned away or burnt out too quickly from the jobs they are performing. The United States will go back to normal; it might be a new normal and we will have to adapt, but it will go back to normal. For now, all we can do is be understanding, we can be kind to service and industry workers and we can all realize that America has always thrived on the back of hard-working citizens and it will continue to do so.