There Isn't A Labor Shortage, There's An Abundance of Bad Companies

There is only one villain in the supply chain crisis - the corporations underpaying laborers.
Ed Zitron 7 min read
There Isn't A Labor Shortage, There's An Abundance of Bad Companies

The supply chain crisis is currently framed as a labor shortage, with CEOs terrified of the “labor shortage becoming structural.” Scumbag toilet-worm Mitt Romney previously said that people aren’t going to work because of unemployment benefits. Economists are scratching their heads, saying that it is “a problem with the supply of workers, which is holding back output,” amongst other things.

“We believe there is a more permanent loss of workers driven by a large number of older workers taking early retirement. The thought of returning to the office and the daily commute may seem unpalatable for many people and with surging equity markets having boosted 401k pension plans, early retirement may seem a very attractive option,” they noted, adding that border closures will have curbed immigration and slower birth rates mean fewer young workers are now entering the workforce.

The Seattle Times is blaming workers for slowing the economic boom, and the New York Times has the funniest possible response:

The labor shortage of 2021 is both conspicuous and perplexing. How is it, after all, that several million people who were working before the pandemic are now getting by without a paycheck?

There is no single answer, but a crucial part of the explanation is that Americans are flush with cash. Thanks to pandemic stimulus programs during both the Trump and Biden administrations, many families have received multiple checks from the federal government over the past 18 months. Those stimulus programs also increased the size of unemployment benefits. Over the same period, home values and stock prices have risen, too.

I have a crazy economic theory for you: workers are sick and fucking tired of all of this shit. America treats workers with such incredible derision, paying them terribly while offering no meaningful social services and saddling them with the highest cost of medical care in the world. Workers that don’t go into an office are treated like dirt - sacrificial lambs during the pandemic to make sure that people got groceries, calling them heroes then calling them lazy for not wanting to go back to manual labor after they spent a year worrying that their terribly-paid job that they desperately needed to survive might end up giving them COVID and, if not killing them, leaving them debilitated, unemployed and homeless.

This situation is being framed as something that is the fault of either the worker or the customer, as a means to protect the real villains  - the companies that refuse to pay and treat their workers with dignity. American consumers should stop buying stuff because we’re too materialistic, we’re buying too many things, and we should blame Americans for the shortage of stuff. The blame must be shifted away from those responsible at all costs, to the point that we all feel bad about things and should stop buying them, and workers should feel bad for being lazy (?) and not “being willing to work.”

Guess what, everyone? The enemy here isn’t the worker or the consumer; it’s companies that, for years and years and years and years, have underpaid and overworked laborers. American politicians (and, honestly, plenty of Americans!) crow about how much they respect and admire workers, and yet they treat real workers - because let’s be honest, those of us who type at a computer all day do not work as hard as they do - like animals.

Take a look at this bullshit that they do to truck drivers:

Let me be as blunt as humanely possible: the reason people aren’t going back to these jobs is that the labor is hard and the pay is bad, and the pandemic was a wake-up call to millions of people that they are underpaid for the work they do. It’s not federal unemployment benefits; it’s not that they’re living fat and happy on two stimulus checks and the pathetic amount of unemployment money we gave them, it’s that they have realized the work is bad and they are not paid well enough for it, and have decided not to tolerate it any longer.

The enemy - the actual problem with the supply chain - is the companies refusing to pay them well. Amazon’s median pay is $29,000, which is lower than the livable wage in Kentucky, the lowest livable wage state in the country. While it’s easy to point the finger at the customer for enjoying the cheap labor, one has to wonder if the customer also wouldn’t mind paying a little more so that companies paid well - and if they do, well, isn’t that the free markets working their magic? Isn’t that what Republicans love? Isn’t America meant to be a meritocracy, where our freedom is what makes this country what it is?

Except it isn’t, and it hasn’t been, and it likely never will be. There is no labor shortage. There are simply many, many, many parts of the supply chain system where people are paid and treated poorly, and they are not willing to suffer it. They may indeed have saved up money from the stimulus checks and unemployment - and if they have, more power to them. Good on them. But I will not tolerate another second of people describing this as a “labor shortage” - it’s a reckoning with corporate greed at scale, where companies are running a mass media campaign to blame everybody else, and it’s working.

The answer is straightforward: these companies need to pay more money to people to do the job. That is the answer. If your business is too poor to afford that, then perhaps don’t expect people to show up to work at it.

If your success is predicated on paying people less than a livable wage, then your business should die. If your work product is so bereft of value that you cannot sell it without using others, then you are in a company that’s evil, or unnecessary. If you’re a person reading this who runs a restaurant claiming that “it’s not possible to run a restaurant without paying people minimum wage,” my answer is “save up some money and have a backup plan,” the same bullshit that you’re likely telling people who lose their jobs.

When Frito-Lay employees walked out of their jobs this year, it wasn’t even for higher pay - it was so that they wouldn’t have to work forced overtime and a guaranteed day off a week. Frito-Lay took weeks to agree to this, acting as if the requests were unreasonable while the company made $1.38 billion in profits in the quarter ending June 12 2021. The classical response to these companies not paying workers is that if they did, things would get more expensive - to which I will say “you’re a rube and fighting a battle for billionaires.” These companies do not have to raise prices, because they are making gobs of profit while crying about how the mean workers won’t do work.

No, someone is not lazy if they don’t want to do manual labor at a restaurant or in a factory or work outside for anything less than $25 an hour, and even then I don’t know if that’s particularly fair. Chipotle, a company that said yesterday that sales had grown 22% year-over-year in this quarter, doubling their profit in the process, (partly by raising prices) whined on Fox Business about the “challenging labor market” while talking proudly about raising the “average starting wage” to $15 an hour (“by an average of $2”). This is not a good wage! The average minimum wage should be $24 or more an hour!

This is why the labor shortage is happening. It’s not because people are lazy, or entitled, or stupid, or living large on tiny little checks that didn’t really fix anything, it’s that they have found a way to live without taking terribly paid and physically exhausting jobs.

The shortage of labor is a shortage of capital invested into workers. That is all it is. Framing it as a problem with how we spend money (which may be a problem, but is not the problem here) or as people “not wanting to work” is disingenuous boot-lickery - it is giving the corporations and those they fund the license to blame the consumer and the worker - the two people they exploit to get rich - for a problem that the corporation created.

You may read this and talk about stories of people “refusing to work” for “$14 an hour” and conclude that the worker is bad, to which I ask you a very simple question: would you do that job for that much? The natural response is “well if my back was against the wall I’d do anything!” which is an incredibly privileged and flat view of how the average person lives, and also how little $14 an hour is. If you worked 10 hours a day, every single day of the year without a single day off (weekends included), you would make $51,500 before tax. I cannot express how little that amount is, and how poorly-paid so many people are, and how much we have built on the backs of people that make nothing but get asked to do everything.

I realize I’m being repetitive at this point, but I am just so frustrated. Stop blaming anyone other than the companies that are unwilling to pay people a reasonable amount of money for work that is a lot harder than the work you’re likely doing right now. If you are claiming that people are “too lazy” to work for $14 an hour, you have likely not worked a job that requires you to stand up and do stuff in your life, or at least haven’t done so in so long as to have forgotten how bad it was.

Whatever you feel about capitalism, efficient capitalism is not built on bleeding workers dry, and if you need any evidence then I point to this supply chain crisis. If the backbreaker slave-driver capitalism worked, we wouldn’t have any problems right now - we wouldn’t have CEOs complaining, or treats arriving late, we’d simply have everything and people would suffer like they had been before.

Except, to paraphrase my buddy Dennis Hudson, the stimulus checks also proved that if the government can pull $1200 or so out of their asses, perhaps corporations can too. That money showed people exactly how much just a little money would do to help them, and how unfairly they’ve been treated for years - and likely made them realize that their labor isn’t fairly compensated.

A strong labor force is a happy labor force. Well-paid workers work hard. If companies want loyalty, they should give people a reason to be loyal. Nobody should be “grateful” for a job - we should be grateful that we have ever been able to pay the pittances we have for the labor we’ve received.

If you read this and are upset because your mother’s brother’s dog’s friend’s cat’s brother couldn’t get anyone to work at their restaurant for $12 an hour, please email me at
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