Before You Complain About the Lack of Workers, Ask Yourself: Would I Want That Job?

“All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger.” — James 5:4–5.

These days, you hear a lot of people complaining there aren’t enough workers for the jobs. The complainers seem to think the workers are out there, but they just don’t want to work. And if they don’t want to work, it’s because they’re lazy. Same old tropes we’ve heard before.

At the same time, thousands of workers are on strike: our crucial healthcare workers, and large companies like Kellogg’s, John Deere, and Nabisco. Even Hollywood barely averted a strike earlier this month. With all these streaming shows, background workers have been expected to work longer hours for less pay. These strikes may be only the beginning.

And, according to the 2020 census, the U.S. birth rate fell 4% to its lowest yet. So, we are lacking workers for a growing economy and also facing an aging population. (And we want to keep immigrants out?)

Add a pandemic on top of that, when people are perhaps reprioritizing exactly what kind of work they are willing to do, and you have the perfect storm for a worker uprising that is long overdue.

We’ve learned a lot in the last two years; chief among those lessons is “Who do we value as a society?”

Although we might clap our hands for the workers we call heroes, we haven’t done much for them.

It’s a good time to ask ourselves, “Would I want to do that job?”

Here are a few of the necessary jobs and their salaries. (Salary numbers were taken from ZipRecruiter.)

· Grocery store clerk. We lauded them for working their long hours so the rest of us could get our needs met. And while we complained about having to wear a mask inside a store for fifteen minutes, they wore them all day. For $14/hour, or an annual salary of $28K. Would you take that job?

· Waiter. Pay varies widely because of tips, but the average annual salary is $20K. The waitperson works in crowded conditions around unmasked people, and they often have to wear a mask themselves. They may get additional grief if they have to tell a customer to wear one. Would you take that job?

· Adjunct Professor. 70% of college professors are now adjuncts, meaning they are hired by the hour and year by year. This is what I do (thankfully I do not rely on it for my full pay), and I watched dozens get dumped in 2020 after heroically learning online teaching in the spring. An adjunct professor with a full course load of three courses makes an average of $32K a year. Would you take that job?

· Elementary school teacher. Most are now back in the classrooms, wearing their masks and making sure the children are wearing theirs. They face anger from parents who do not want their kids wearing masks. They bent over backward for at least a year, trying to accommodate themselves, their students, and parents to online teaching and learning. They make $55K a year. Would you want that job?

· Flight attendant. All that travel and seeing the world! Unfortunately, the skies aren’t so friendly anymore. Flight attendants now have to be the first line of defense for unruly passengers who don’t want to wear a mask or follow some other protocol. Would you take that job for $60K a year?

· Department store manager. This has become one of the most dangerous jobs around. Who knew? But they are the ones who must tell the customer not to come in if they don’t have a mask. They have been harassed and even assaulted. Would you take this job for $58K a year?

· Nurse. Is it any wonder nurses are striking? We call them heroes but expect them to be there 24/7, even when we’ve been stupid enough not to use the tools we have to combat this epidemic. Many healthcare workers have become sick and even died from the epidemic. They have to wear masks, shields, and pretty much a Hazmat suit every day, often for 12-hour days. And yet we complain about our freedoms being taken away. Would you be a nurse for $60K a year?

· Police officer. Many police officers have come under scrutiny in recent years, because of the appalling actions of a few in the force. And they should be under scrutiny. But how would you have liked to have been an officer at the Capitol on January 6th? Or on a daily beat in any neighborhood — take your pick. They have a union and have great benefits and it’s a good job for a working-class person to move up. But would you do it for $59K a year?

If we manage to overcome the pandemic over the winter, maybe some workers will drift back to the jobs they had before — presumably, average workers won’t be taking on the mask and vaccination fights anymore.

But many workers are fed up; they’ve realized they can live on less money, with less hassle. And those who do return to work do not want to be undervalued again. They are wisely taking this worker shortage to their advantage and demanding more. We all should have learned by now, that the corporations, out of the goodness of their hearts, are not going to trickle down their wealth.

It’s time to take the fight to the streets.

We need not wait around for the Master Avenger. Like a Marvel superhero, the Master Avenger is us. And our time is now.

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Kevin Scott Hall

Kevin Scott Hall

I am an author, freelance writer, and singer/songwriter. I split my time between Brooklyn, NY and my native Massachusetts. I teach at City College of New York.