Workers Staying Home: What Does This Mean?

Many workers have not returned to work since COVID-19 started, and the labor shortage has gotten worse. Why has this happened, and what does this mean?

By Blue Future Youth Contributor, Daniya Siddiqui

Source: Getty Images via Canva

Since the pandemic began, labor shortages in the US have been a growing issue. However, people expected the labor shortage to improve as life returned to normal. Schools and businesses have reopened, so the assumption was that workers would return to work. Shockingly, that has not been the case. Economists say that if the labor shortage continues, the economy will not be able to recover.

What is a labor shortage?

Business Insider defines labor shortages as, “the phenomenon of businesses, especially low-wage ones, struggling to hire.” There are many reasons for labor shortages. At the moment, a prominent reason is that people have increased their expectations for work, post-pandemic. Some people have created their own jobs since the pandemic started, and because of that, there are holes to fill in the corporate world. Many women have also not been able to return to the workforce because of a lack of childcare. There are not enough people working in after-school programs, so many mothers have had to stay home with their kids. When one sector of the labor force experiences a shortage, including those working in child care, other sectors which rely on that support are also restricted from returning to work.

The “anti-work” movement is also starting to rise as people weigh the benefits of going to work in the first place. The movement has gained a huge following on Reddit, with the “r/antiwork” subreddit currently having 1 million idlers. Those who are a part of this movement follow the slogan, “Unemployment for all, not just the rich!” Despite its name and mantra, the anti-work movement is not actually against work; it simply seeks to publicize prominent issues and disparities for employees in the workplace.

Workers have also started to take their advocacy to the picket line. Labor strikes have been effective for centuries, if not thousands of years, and people are starting to participate in them even more frequently now. “Striketober” took place this October, with workers from major companies — including Kellogg’s — going on strike in response to poor working conditions and the loss of benefits. Dan Osborn, one of the workers on strike, and the President of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ Union Local 50G in Omaha, Nebraska, told Business Insider that there seemed to be a “movement sweeping across America with labor.”

In August, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs as the rate of people leaving their jobs skyrocketed. Currently, there are almost 10 million job vacancies in the US. Companies, big and small, are struggling with a lack of workers, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Many companies have sought solutions: increasing their wages and seeking immigrant workers. Many economists recommend changing immigration policies in order to increase the size of the workforce.

Without addressing these issues, the labor shortage could plague the American economy into the new year. Wages will continue to increase without workers returning, which will increase companies’ labor costs.

CNN Business states, “for the first time in decades, the scenario of a wage-price spiral… could actually hinder economic growth.”

A wage-price spiral is essentially when “higher prices and rising wages feed each other,” and in the past, it has given a boost to the economy. Regardless of its normal effect, in today’s economic climate, if this spiral continues, the Federal Reserve will have to increase interest rates in 2022, lowering the United States GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

If the labor shortage does not improve, your favorite restaurants and stores will start to close early, and small businesses will continue to shut down. Despite these growing concerns, new data shows that the latest jobs report showed improvement, so things are looking up.

Although it has harmed the economy, the labor shortage has shifted leverage to workers, instead of employers, for once. Workers have finally been able to take more control over their working conditions and pay, making necessary changes to the workplace environment that may have previously seemed impossible. This means that new generations of workers may end up with more power and rights than they would have sans labor shortage. If the economy continues to improve, this labor shortage may result in a more positive impact on workers in our society than a negative one.

About the Author: I’m Daniya Siddiqui and my pronouns are she/her. I am a sophomore in high school from Arizona. I love to write, and have recently become an editor for a literary magazine called Ink & Feather, and I started my own Substack newsletter about fashion (another one of my interests!). I have also been involving myself in politics a lot over the past couple of years including joining the AZ High School Democrat’s communications board. Also, I’m a competitive dancer, and I spend a lot of my time in the studio as well as on the stage! I’m really excited to be a part of Blue Future’s new Writing Yourself into History program!

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