Workers in America fight for better wages, benefits post-pandemic
July 28, 2021
America’s workforce was showing signs of restlessness before the pandemic began. Now employers are taking notice as workers walk off jobs to picket and protest. Issues that were small pre-pandemic were quickly turned into large issues during the worst of it, a concept many have noticed over the last year as the world continues to deal with a shock to its system.
“The workforce everywhere has problems,” said Ray Starling, president of North Carolina Chamber Legal Institute. “Engineers, surveyors, healthcare workers, everybody is short-staffed. It’s resounding.”
While the continuous flow of funds from unemployment benefits and stimulus checks is certainly a contributing factor to America’s negative attitude toward working for a living, Starling said there are other structural issues that should have been addressed a long time ago.
American colleges produce skilled people, but those people do not embrace the workforce. There is a cultural problem in the American education system as colleges focus on academia instead of integrating and promoting the value of working for a living.
“The cultural question in society at the moment is ‘have we adequately recognized, promoted and talked about the value and dignity of work?’ Starling said. “Our health, the public’s health, our personal satisfaction and our emotional health all benefit from working. I think that’s a conversation America needs to have again.”
There are still plenty of people who are legitimately concerned about the virus and the safety of the vaccines, he said. Parts of the population have genuine fears so in order to get these people back into the workforce and even to get them vaccinated, there will have to be pretty nice incentives, he said. Benefits as they are right now are clearly not good enough anymore.
“The system is very mobile right now,” Starling said. “We need to think about work differently. I’m wondering if there’s something going on culturally. Americans need to talk about that.”
Low-wage workers especially are feeling the hit of the pandemic, according to an article called Wage Rage by Alana Semuels in the August 2/August 9, 2021 edition of TIME magazine. Semuels writes how employers everywhere are feeling pressure to offer their employees an overall better work experience.
“Going forward, it’s going to be a talent-seller’s market,” Starling said. “People looking to procure talent will have it tough for at least the next couple years, which will continue to shock the system.”
The article goes on to say that workers have the ball in their court as wages continue to rise and employers are offering benefits and sign-on bonuses. Workers are also looking for jobs in industries that provide better career paths and advancement opportunities, according to the article.
Starling said businesses have another problem besides a lack of workers: they have a lack of predictability for the workers they’re already retaining as well as others they may hire. If current and potential employees can’t be certain of having reliable childcare, staying healthy and safe at work or having a predictable schedule, they won’t want to go back to work.
“This will come back over time, but for now it’s preventing businesses from growing and being confident in the future,” he said. “But workers are going to dictate the terms of the deal. The socioeconomic ladder is all over the place right now.”