How is it even possible to make these two statements at the same time? Let’s take a look at the origins of these two false statements.
We see restaurants desperately trying to find folks who are willing to work for them, and we hear Conservatives worry about migrants taking our jobs. But both of these popular concerns are actually missing the point. The problem is much bigger than that.
And it’s not limited to the United States at all. Great Britain is facing an even more severe shortage of labor these days. Many experts agree that Brexit is the reason for this phenomenon.
For decades, the United Kingdom welcomed cheap labor from Eastern Europe. European Union laws allowed workers to move freely and take jobs abroad. Often these jobs were not well-paid, but these workers were happy to make more money than they would make in their country of origin.
Brexit changed this dynamic, and British conservatives are now shedding crocodile tears because they are missing skilled workers. A few years ago, these workers were the target of racists who accused them of stealing jobs—and now, the same folks are looking at empty shelves in supermarkets and worry about their meat supplies for Christmas.
The situation in the United States is quite similar. Bars, restaurants, and other businesses can’t find workers who are willing to work below minimum wages. Many of them are not willing to rely on tips anymore.
But instead of blaming higher minimum wages, the laziness of young workers, or migrants stealing jobs, why don’t we talk about the real reasons behind this crisis?
If your business is not able to pay fair wages, maybe your business model sucks?
Let’s say I want to open a restaurant and notice that I can’t pay waiters properly because I am not making enough money. How fair is it to tell my customers that they have to bail me out with tips? Why is it the responsibility of my clients to subsidize my unhealthy business model?
Let’s take this to a bigger level. Imagine running a multi-million dollar company with thousands of workers that is not able to pay workers a salary that is high enough to cover their living costs? What does that say about the business model itself?
One of the biggest arguments against higher minimum wages is the concern about higher prices in general. Conservatives are warning that we might end up paying 20 bucks for a burger—and that’s a scary thought to folks who make far less than 20 dollars an hour.
A few years ago, I was living and working in Switzerland. Everyone who has ever been to Switzerland knows that prices are quite high over there. If you want to have a nice dinner for two people, you will end up spending more than 40 dollars on that easily.
But this is not a problem if your minimum wage is at 35 dollars an hour, right?
People in Switzerland pay more for almost everything, but they also earn far more money than most of us do. We see the same dynamic in Sweden and Norway.
This also causes folks from Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden to have a pretty good time when traveling. Everything feels ridiculously cheap to them when spending time abroad.
So why would a country voluntarily do the opposite of that?
The only reason to pay low wages and indirectly forcing folks to work two or three jobs at the same time is to increase the profit of the corporation as a whole. These profits drive the stock markets, enable corporations to pay dividends to investors, and push other competitors out of business.
Why would any society choose to put the interest of corporations above the well-being of its citizens?
Why would we religiously hold on to the idea of trickle-down economics?
And how are news networks like Fox News contributing to that dynamic?
I am convinced that all of this is only possible because most of us are not aware of this. For decades we celebrated globalization as a mechanism to make things cheaper. But most of us didn’t think about the children in Asia manufacturing our clothes, toys, and other goods. Many of us never realized that migrants held up the economy by working for low wages and living in poverty.
But then COVID-19 hit the economy. Supply chains are falling apart, workers are not willing to put their health at risk for five bucks an hour, and corporations see a wave of folks quitting their jobs.
And even more important, many of us finally took the time during lockdown to take a look at the bigger picture.
One of the most basic concepts of the economy is the idea of supply and demand. Most experts believe in an invisible hand that balances prices according to the availability and popularity of certain goods. If everyone wants the same things, these things will become more expensive. Just take a look at the housing situation to get an idea of how high demand leads to skyrocketing prices.
But most Conservatives defend the gentrification of inner cities as a perfectly normal reaction of the markets. But the moment workers demand higher wages to cover the rising costs of living, and most Republicans reject that while stubbornly using scary words like Socialism and Communism.
Nobody is talking about implementing Communism when demanding higher minimum wages. We are talking about the core principles of Capitalism.
If you want someone to work for your business, you need to attract workers willing to work for what you can offer to them. If you desperately need a job, you might be willing to accept a job that’s not well-paid. It’s as simple as that.
So, of course, we could cut all social welfare and create a situation where workers are taking any job available—or we could put pressure on corporations to pay minimum wages by amping up social welfare.
And of course, the money we spend on social welfare doesn’t fall from trees.
This article published by The Atlantic perfectly explains the problem behind this conversation. Corporate profits had been rising for the last five decades, but the GDP and wages were not able to keep up with that.
So, please explain to me why we would take more care of corporate interests than paying our workers properly?
Maybe COVID-19 is just a more than-needed wake-up call to question these practices?
The American Dream sounds nice, but how many dishwashers who became millionaires did you meet in your life so far?
The promise that each of us could end up making tons of money within this system kept many of us on board. But unfortunately, looking at the distribution of wealth in the United States doesn’t support that narrative of the American Dream.
There is no such thing as a labor shortage; there is a shortage of businesses willing to pay fair wages. There are no migrants stealing our jobs; there are jobs designed for undocumented migrants who are desperate enough to accept them.
And most importantly, there are news networks trying to push a narrative that covers the underlying causes of the current situation by blaming migrants and workers who demand fair wages—it’s not their fault.
When the pandemic started almost two years ago, some Conservatives were more worried about the economy than about the health of American citizens. Some folks argued that businesses should rather stay open and put workers in danger of a deadly virus than risk the economy collapsing.
So far, 700,000 people have died because of COVID-19. We have no idea how many folks will suffer from post-Covid syndrome and the impact of that on our healthcare system.
Maybe it would have been smarter to take care of the people instead of worrying about the stock markets? Maybe we need to rethink the way we treat workers?
After all, it’s about demand and supply.
That’s what experts told us for decades, and they were right on that—let’s apply that to the so-called labor shortage.
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