Updated: Apr 1, 2022
Americans tired of living just to get by
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on January 27, 2022)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
On the Jan. 9, episode of "60 Minutes," Carl Sobocinski, a restaurant owner in Greenville, S.C., and Karin Kimbrough, chief economist for LinkedIn, both weighed in on why so many people have not yet returned to work.
"People say that we are still providing benefits where too many people can sit at home and get a check," Sobocinski said. "I personally disagree with that. Our associates that did not come back are not sitting at home. They found other careers, other opportunities that fit their lifestyle better."Kimbrough said she looked at data from over 800 million LinkedIn users. "What we saw was that when the [unemployment benefits] were turned off, when workers were no longer getting the benefits, they did not rush back to work. ... That tells me that it's not just a function of the benefits."
Over the last year, I have had conversations with family, friends and acquaintances who believe most Americans who have not yet returned to work are just sitting at home being lazy. In the media, this narrative started with Republican politicians pushing the notion that unemployment pandemic aid would lead to disincentivizing workers. Many politicians claimed that the No. 1 disincentive was the $300 per week unemployment supplemental payment. Yet, it has been almost six months since the first state stopped giving supplemental unemployment income, and there are still millions of Americans who have not returned to the workforce.
For context, the three stimulus packages that passed in 2020 received overwhelming bipartisan support from congressional members. In the House of Representatives, 96% voted for it. In the Senate, it was 97%. These bills were even given names like the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Here we are almost two years after the first bill passed and many Americans are not feeling the care or concern from those who chose to label them as lazy and unwilling to work. To categorize large numbers of Americans as lazy, unwilling to work, and abusing government aid is disingenuous and just flat-out apathetic. It also shows that leaders are disconnected with the plight of many Americans.
I find it interesting that politicians have chosen to lecture Americans about the type of work they should do to be viewed as productive citizens in our society when many of these same lawmakers have refused to lift the federal minimum wage from $7.25, where it has been since 2009. Wages in America have stagnated since the 1970s. While corporations have continued to make more and more money, employee wages for the typical worker have not kept up with the increased profits of the companies. Don Tapscott, a Canadian business executive and author, believes the growth of social inequality is at the heart of the anger, extremism, protectionism, and xenophobia we see in the world today.
Social inequality highlights that the resources in a given society are unevenly distributed. For example, in America, the top 20% of Americans have 72% of all the wealth in our country and the bottom 20% only control about 3%. There are some who believe those who are in the top 20% worked hard and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to get to where they are. If we believe this notion to be true, that means that the 80% of Americans who will never be in the top tier of wealth are lazy and not working hard enough. Being that America is not even in the top 25 countries where upward mobility is possible, we must ask ourselves: Is meritocracy the standard we want to continue to measure each other by?
The reality is many Americans are tired of living life just to get by. Americans are tired of doing jobs that have a stigma of unimportance. Americans are tired of being paid an unfair wage for doing the work that supports the foundation of society and business. Americans are tired of being taken advantage of.
The reality we face is that many of the "we are hiring" jobs may never be filled. Instead of antagonizing Americans about their life choices, politicians and laypeople would have a greater impact if we leaned in with empathy and allowed people to live their lives in jobs fulfilling to them. Maybe the worker bees aren't lazy. Maybe they are protesting that they are worth more. While many corporations across all industries are now starting to provide workers with wages and benefits they have deserved for decades, time will be the determining factor as to the new definition of a productive citizen. This time, the workers may have more power in determining what that looks like.
Why Are Americans Choosing to Quit Their Jobs in Record Numbers
60 Minutes. (2022, January 9). Why are Americans choosing to quit their jobs in record numbers? [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/brw-jN9b-Sg
Alpert, G. (2021, December 30). A breakdown of the fiscal and monetary responses to the pandemic. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/government-stimulus-efforts-to-fight-the-covid-19-crisis-4799723
Govtrack. (2020, May 14). H.R. 6201: Families first coronavirus response act. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/116-2020/h102
Hassani, A. (2017, May 23). There's no such thing as laziness. wedowe. https://www.wedowe.org/blog/theres-no-such-thing-as-laziness
Khanacademymedicine. (2015, March 27). Overview of social inequality. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/JYxspCbwZVs
Leiserson, G., McGrew, W., and Kopparam, R. (2019, March 21). The distribution of wealth in the United States and implications for a net worth tax. Washington Center for Equitable Growth. https://equitablegrowth.org/the-distribution-of-wealth-in-the-united-states-and-implications-for-a-net-worth-tax/
World Economic Forum. (2020, January 19). Global social mobility index 2020: Why economies benefit from fixing inequality. https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-social-mobility-index-2020-why-economies-benefit-from-fixing-inequality