September came and went, and yet, contrary to economists’ predictions, there was no huge surge in job numbers. Do you know what there was a massive surge in? Covid cases. Schools opening. Working parents everywhere realizing this hellscape still hasn’t ended. Sorry, not sorry, but Covid is still a very real concern for everyone. Especially for people who are forced to interact with the general public in order to pay their bills. And here, all the conservative folks of the world thought ending unemployment benefits would have everyone rushing to get back to work. No such luck, friends.
So why didn’t employees flock back to open positions? The insane lines backing up fast-food drive-thrus and Targets throughout the U.S. speak volumes about the worker shortage companies are still facing. Could it be an impossible balance between astronomical childcare costs and working enough to cover the cost? Or maybe it’s because that high-deductible plan doesn’t look as great as it used to. Especially once you realize that the medical bills you’ll incur because you caught Covid at work will bankrupt you faster than you can say “shoulda stayed home.”
The numbers speak for themselves. The most recent jobs report shows the United States has about 11 million jobs available, yet only 3.3 million people returned to work. So what’s going on with those 7.7 million other people? Potential health risks and overpriced childcare costs are only part of the equation. People are choosing to prioritize their total wellness, including emotional, mental, and physical health, over a paycheck. And really, can you blame them? Going to a job that you don’t feel safe in, or subjecting yourself to a toxic work environment day in and day out, has real-life consequences. There is no salary high enough to offset the cost.
But, the employees that haven’t returned to the job aren’t necessarily making the big bucks. Although previously marked minimum-wage jobs have a higher starting dollar an hour rate, when you take into account the price of inflation, it’s basically a wash–if that. What ever happened to being able to rely on a full-time job to live your life? And I’m not even talking about covering all your wants. I’m talking about covering all your needs.
The truth is, many people have more flexibility working two gig jobs and can often make the same (or more) as they would working in ‘full-time’ work. So really, they aren’t unemployed; they just aren’t working traditional 9-to-5s or they have taken the self-employment route. Employers are majorly missing the mark by thinking offering $15 an hour will keep folks where they’re at. For example, if you can Door Dash where you control your schedule and your hours and limit your contact with people you don’t know–why wouldn’t you do that instead?
So those 7.7 million people who haven’t returned to the traditional job market find themselves here. They’re looking for some kind of balance between flexible scheduling, making enough to cover the basics, and being able to stay healthy and safe. And who, might you ask, are these people? While the millions of people who haven’t returned to work cover broad demographics, many of them are moms. Why? Because moms get shit done, of course.
Unemployed Moms, As Always, Are Bearing the Brunt of It All
Balancing schedules, running the house, and keeping our littles safe is all invisible work that disproportionately rests on Mom’s shoulders. And yes, it’s a tall order to fill. So much so that according to Labor Department data, summarized by the Washington Post, 309,000 women quit work or halted their job searches in September. Does that seem like a lot? It is. Especially when compared with the 182,000 men who joined or re-entered the workforce.
With September came a return to (mostly) in-person school. For working moms, before and after school care became an additional cost again. And for many, childcare, in general, continued to be unaffordable. When you weigh the cost of a $15 an hour job, for say, 32 hours a week, that $480 (and that’s gross pay) hardly offsets the national average $320 cost to send one child to daycare. It’s a vicious cycle and one that can only be fixed by companies paying their employees a living wage, taking proper COVID-19 precautions, and allowing reasonable accommodations and flexibility for working parents.
The failure to return to the workforce was blamed on extended unemployment benefits being too plush, but guess what? Those benefits are non-existent, and it still hasn’t fixed the issue. People are choosing to prioritize the emotional, mental, and physical health of themselves and their families over a traditional job. It’s as simple as that.
The number of unemployed Americans is only one symptom of an underlying societal problem that puts profits before people. And until companies understand that, there will be no resolution.