Written By: Anton Sawyer
Nothing pleases me more than when the little guy finally realizes they are being taken advantage of and are “as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.” Though I have yet to see people running out of their houses in the suburbs to scream this motto from the top of their lungs, there is another form of protest that has seized almost every service-based industry in the United States. One that is far more silent, yet no less detrimental to the American economy; mass walk-outs.
Some say I’m a pessimist, but I like to think of myself as a realist. I have the ability to acknowledge when I am pleasantly surprised by my fellow citizens and am more than happy to address these actions. Lately, it seems that the fast-food industry is seeing the brunt of an economy that was reliant on wealth distribution for a time due to a worldwide pandemic, and a working-class that is … well … extremely pissed off. “Essential workers,” they were called, yet were not compensated or treated in a way that would reflect such a title. Millions were let go of their employment once the dining areas of restaurants were shuttered across the country. Those millions found that because of emergency unemployment benefits, they had an income that would not only cover their living expenses but also allowed some slack if minor emergencies arose. Now that the Covid vaccine has penetrated enough of the population to allow the need for those formerly unemployed to return to the workforce, many are refusing. This refusal has been a hot topic of business owners as the summertime of ’21 begins and the need for more service industry employees is at an all-time high. Today I’m going to look at the numbers illustrating that this is indeed a trend. I’m also going to look at the ripple effects that it is having on anyone and everyone who doesn’t cook at home.
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If you have noticed that McDonald’s and other fast-food establishments have been featuring giant signs that they are hiring and giving ranges of pay anywhere from $11, 12, 14, or up to 18 dollars per hour to START, there’s a reason for this; people don’t want to work there anymore for the pay that was once seen as a “standard.” In a Business Insider article from April 2021 interviews with various franchise owners showed the same problem across the board. "We are struggling to get people," one McDonald's franchisees told Insider. John Motta, a Dunkin' franchisee who serves as chairman of the Coalition of Franchisee Association added, "It's just craziness out there. People are closing early, people are not opening lobbies. This is the COVID of 2021. This is the pandemic of 2021 — lack of people to work."
There have been two major reasons why these numbers are low and people aren't returning to their old jobs.
The first is the fact the pandemic forced life changes that now require a lot more flexibility. According to the seventh annual Bright Horizons Modern Family Index, many employees aren't interested in returning to the same work environment they left behind a year ago. Nearly 6 in 10 parents who began working from home at the start of the pandemic want to keep doing so, according to the report. Nearly half want to work remotely if an emergency arises, while 41% want the option of working remotely whenever they want.
The second teeters between financial and mental health. When you have not been employed during the pandemic, as tens of millions were, there is nothing more mentally crippling than the thought of returning to a place where you will be yelled at and belittled all while making a wage that no longer covers the basic necessities which had been covered the entire year prior, why go back? Employers are starting to realize this. They are having to start making wages more competitive, start offering benefits that they once never would have, and are being forced into compensating their workers much more in line with the current cost of living. Plus, it’s pretty overwhelming that the public at large supports the minimum wage increase. As recently as the first quarter of 2021, Pew Research released a study showing that about six-in-ten U.S. adults (62%) say they favor raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, including 40% who strongly back the idea.
When looking through the last 100 years of American history, it took the Spanish Flu, the Great War, and the Great Depression before enough of the constituency was decimated to allow the revolutionary wealth distribution programs of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt to become law. It would be incredibly easy to see the first quarter of the 21st century mimicking that of the century prior, but this time around the spillage from the pandemic was too great for our current society, and the sense of self-worth had become too much to just ignore the systemic issues that have kept the lower/middle classes in check for so long. But as we know, it’s not until enough people become directly impacted that the tides of any social or economic movement gain steam. This is where the unintended side-effects come into play.
Because of how well The Indie Truther webzine has been received, I’ve been able to focus on it full-time. If I need to make some extra cash, I drive for a company known for delivering hot and fresh food from a plethora of restaurants nationwide. During the first half of 2021, I have seen a drastic change in the way restaurants have had to operate due to this worker shortage. Outside of the extended wait times—which have increased by at least 5-6 minutes per delivery during peak hours—many fast-food facilities have adopted signs which clearly educate the customer that due to a shortage of employees, their wait times may be extended. It’s not uncommon to order McDonald’s on Friday night and have to wait for 90 minutes—even if you only live five or six blocks away from the closest one.
As much as I would love to think that by educating enough people on American economic history and the deception tactics that are being used by those who create the laws and economic fallout we have to endure on a regular basis, that would be enough to fix everything. It isn’t. What I have always found is that most people’s lives are such as to where they live day-to-day, paycheck to paycheck, and can only live for the here and now. This has both good and bad points. The bad point comes from looking at the world that’s five feet in front of you, and allowing the ignorance of history to leave a huge blind spot where learning from the mistakes of your ancestors could save a lot of time and trouble. The good point resides in that same impatience; I don’t think Generations X, Millennials, and Z have the patience to wait for another world war or great depression before they start to actively change their futures. Whether it be not returning to the workforce, or learning to game the system in the same ways the large corporations do, I’m hoping they have the guts to see it through.