Thoughts by Richard Bleil
There were a couple of interesting news stories that caught my attention today. The first report (from CNBC) stated that, in December, there were 4.6 million more job openings than unemployed workers. No, that’s not a typo; four and a half million more open jobs than unemployed workers. Damn those immigrants taking all of our jobs.
Okay, that last snarky little comment is mine. But the report points to a growing problem in our society, namely the difficulty businesses are having in finding employees. This problem was probably brewing for quite some time, but the Coronavirus gave it an unwelcome acceleration. For many years, workers have been abused by business owners with ever declining benefits and pay that didn’t keep up with inflation. Many people have been arguing for years for a reasonable increase in minimum wage, calls that went unheeded. Instead, workers found themselves faced with insults and shame blaming by people arguing it’s their own fault, they need to get degrees, or get new jobs.
Is it any wonder that the great “walk-off” occurred? When the Coronavirus hit, many companies that received benefits to keep people on the payroll ended up laying them off instead showing their dedication to their employees was so poor that even money couldn’t convince them to do the right thing. The Coronavirus ended up creating a massive population of home bound people who were unemployed and couldn’t rely on the relief checks or, if they did, they often didn’t cover the bills that continued to come in the midst of the pandemic.
I had to get a ride today to pick up my car from the shop, and the driver and I struck up a conversation. He posed the question of how people are getting money if they’re not working. Ironically, I was wearing my sweatshirt from the kitchen appliance company for which I am a consultant. I simply pointed to it. People have found alternative forms of supplement for their income by selling products at home. I have many friends who have started doing this. To be fair, I only know a few who have sufficient income to have no other job and live the way they would like (the ones that I do have been at this game for years as it takes time to build up a client base). Most of my friends use these home sales as additional income rather than main source. They have spouses who are the breadwinners and they just wanted supplemental income allowing for a parent to remain home, or they have other jobs and no longer need two jobs to live. One of my friends runs her own day-care facility and sells nail products online. This means she is not out looking for an evening job, and is therefore out of the job search.
Considering the way employees have been treated in the past fifty years (in a not-so-slow decline) it’s hard to blame them for finding alternative sources of income, and I certainly can’t feel sorry for the business owners who created their own crisis. There was a time when employers treated their employees with respect and worked hard to be sure that the more successful they were, the more the employees would benefit. With the age of benefit cutting and hiring cheaper and firing the more experienced ones came the roots for this crisis.
Education is used to this kind of problem. States seem to frequently have difficulty getting school bills to pass. People want to live in a nation with the world’s greatest educational system (as ours USED to be) but refuse to pay for it. Living in South Dakota, there was a great “mystery” among the administrators as they couldn’t quite figure out why so many graduates of the state universities in education were leaving South Dakota where the salaries were the lowest in the nation to go to surrounding states. Of course, it’s also the state where, in my first year, there was an article bragging that 46% of the high school students were in the fiftieth percentile or better in national testing.
Which brings me to the second article that truly caught my attention today. Apparently, New Mexico has asked the National Guard to step in as substitute teachers so they can keep their schools open. Yes, indeed, they are asking that their public schools become militarized. In a way, this may not be a terrible thing as it might make terrorists think twice if national guards are in schools, but it brings up the issue of how we treat our teachers. Their salaries have always been far lower than they should be for people with their education levels, and they’ve been losing benefits as well although at first glance it might not seem so. For example, in the last administration’s tax reform, a severe limit was put on how much of their income could be written off for supplies. Frankly, they should not be able to write off any tax deductions for supplies, because they should have a sufficient supply budget in the first place. I frankly find it difficult to decide which is more offensive, that teachers are spending their own money for supplies, or that they are penalized for doing so.
We have got to start treating people better, but that ship may have already sailed. Perhaps we’re in a position where business owners have saved so much money on employees for so long that now they need to spend money to figure out how to do work with fewer people. Unfortunately, this will probably look like adding responsibility to the backs of the employees they still have. But, maybe, just maybe, a few of them are intelligent enough to realize that this would only risk losing more people. But I doubt it.