Is Everybody Still “Workin’ for the Weekend”?


Photo by Josh Olalde | Unsplash

Photo by Josh Olalde | Unsplash

Here’s a sign of aging: You start telling stories about all the menial jobs you held when you were a teenager.    


For me, those tales include working as an ice cream parlor dishwasher, McDonald’s maintenance man, flower delivery person, and painter of street address numbers on curbs. Often such a list is followed by a derisive comment about today’s youth and/or the country’s work ethic. Only now, this perennial right of griping has gained new resonance. 

A fierce debate has overtaken the country on whether America’s work ethic is dying. Daniel Henninger asked such a question in his Thursday column for The Wall Street Journal. His inquiry came on the heels of a recent report that showed a gain of only 266,000 jobs last month and an uptick in the unemployment rate to 6.1%.  


Here’s another sign of the times: Near me, a Wawa advertising an $800 signing bonus for new hires who are vaccinated. Many small business owners claim they can’t find employees and point to competition they face from the government’s offer of enhanced unemployment benefits – which had been $600 per week and are now $300 – on top of normal state unemployment benefits which the labor department says average $318.    

Henninger wrote:

“It’s now clear that Mr. Biden and the left expect these outlays effectively to raise the minimum wage by forcing employers to compete with uncle sam’s money. Still, it is impossible not to be struck by how many employers say that former and prospective employees—after a year of forced unemployment—simply will not work.”  

Several state governors agree. So far, 16 GOP-led states have announced plans to cut benefits. They include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming. Georgia just joined that list to end its participation in the federal government’s covid-19 unemployment insurance program effective June 26.  

That means that, according to an analysis done by The Washington Post, “557,000 unemployed in these states will see their weekly benefits diminish by $300.” A second group of 863,000 who just obtained aid for the first time under a second stimulus program will lose all of their benefits. A final group of about 513,000 workers who collect traditional unemployment benefits each week similarly may have their assistance reduced to zero.  


Not everyone thinks the unemployment rate is attributable to employers who are struggling to hire because the government is paying people to stay home – President Biden has said that the enhanced benefits have made no “measurable” impact on the worker shortage.   


This week he reinforced that individuals receiving benefits who are offered a suitable job are obligated to take it, and called upon the department of labor to reinstate requirements that were eased last year requiring recipients to search for work.   


Thirty-five states have already reinstated requirements that anyone receiving benefits provide proof that they are searching for work. Some see the recent jobs’ picture as an overdue reckoning for low wages. A real-world response to the failure of Congress to pass a $15 federal minimum wage.   


This response from Twitter was one of many I received that made that point:  

“…work ethic isn’t dying. People are wising up to the fact that corporate America would rather pay you so little that you have to be on food stamps rather than a living wage. If you make more per week with unemployment insurance and $300 supplemental, something is wrong.”  

Still, others point to pandemic-related factors such as a lack of child care exacerbated by closed schools, and concerns over safety in the workplace.    


So is the American work ethic dying – or are the wages of work being reimagined?  

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