Nobody Wants to Work?

I’m sure we’ve all heard this line a thousand times by now: Nobody wants to work. Local restaurants have had to close temporarily due to low staffing. There’s long waits at many of those that remain open. But it’s not just restaurant and other minimum wage jobs that can’t attract employees. It’s pretty much across the board. Nobody wants to work, but why?

I can’t help but think of my parent’s generation when it comes to such matters. They were pre-baby boomer. They were the silent generation. My dad was a union worker at Decatur’s Caterpillar plant, and my mom worked at Miles Chevrolet as a warranty clerk. It wasn’t even a consideration to not have a job then, especially for men, just like it wasn’t an option for us to drop out of school. Some things you just did because those were unspoken rules. Also, you knew, and this is important, if you did those things, you were going to have a pretty good life.

You could afford to buy a home in a nice neighborhood, send your kids to college, go on family vacations, and retire with a pension.

If you worked at Caterpillar for 30 years, you could retire with a very comfortable pension and medical benefits. My dad retired in his early 50s. Can you even imagine that now? My mom wasn’t as fortunate. Her employer didn’t offer pensions, instead she had a 401k, that was nice extra money but certainly not enough to live off of for more than a year or two. I’m sure most of us are very familiar with that.

Both were pretty much guaranteed vacation time. Of course, my dad’s union contract ensured vacation time and personal days.

But it wasn’t all rosey. There were several labor strikes, in which my parents lost their savings more than once. Those benefits and wages had been fought for, and the company was doing all it could to adopt wages and benefits most of us are used to today. No pension. Lower pay. Higher insurance premiums. Less vacation time. Higher company profits. MUCH higher company profits.

I remember them both, bundled up in layers of clothes to stand on the picket lines in the dead of winter. Decatur was ground zero for corporate America’s war against labor unions in the early 90s. It wasn’t just Caterpillar being targeted. Firestone and Tate & Lyle were also on the picket lines.

I’d love to say that the unions won, but they didn’t, and we’ve been living with that unfortunate reality now for about 30 years. Firestone left. Caterpillar is still here, but hardly the employer it once was, and Tate & Lyle still has their 12-hour rotating shifts and fewer benefits.

So why do people work in the first place? Obviously, we work to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads. We also work for a sense of purpose. We want to do something productive and meaningful with our lives. We also work for the future. We would prefer to not starve or freeze to death in our old age. It would also be nice to retire and travel or do things we’ve always wanted to do. But are those things even a possibility anymore? Uhm….

Paying the bills. Are most people earning enough to even pay for the most basic of necessities (without government assistance)? Not really. Are most people earning enough to save for retirement? Looking over the statistics, that would be a big nope. How about those retirement years? Well, if you live long enough, close to 70 or so, you might be able to retire and depend upon Social Security and an insufficient 401k account. Will you enjoy those retirement years? A lot of us will be dead by then or in too poor of health to enjoy our old age, since we were worked to death when we were younger, so it’s not looking all that attractive.

Nobody wants to work, because there’s no incentive to. If you can’t pay the bills, enjoy vacations, and have a comfortable retirement to look forward to, then what is the point of working? There are those that argue that a good work ethic is all you need, regardless of how you’re treated by your employer. Only lazy people don’t want to work.

Yes, there are some lazy deadbeats out there. Those people have always existed, but the vast majority of people want a job that doesn’t drain them emotionally and physically.

Yesterday I learned that I can’t have a week-long vacation this year because we’re too short-staffed. That made me angry, though I wasn’t surprised. Then I just got more angry. A co-worker was right when she said a one-week vacation isn’t really a vacation. She’s from the Philippines and, like most other countries, enjoy more vacation time than Americans. In fact, a certain number of paid days off is mandated by the government, just like in Europe. Not so in the good ole US of A. I can’t even imagine being on vacation that long. I can barely have a single day off during the week.

I thought maybe I’m being too greedy or demanding, but then I realized I’m not. I’m being completely reasonable. I’m a good worker. My production is usually the highest in the department. I earned a vacation this year, and more than just one lousy week. It’s not unreasonable to want personal days or sick days. It’s not unreasonable to want better wages or more affordable health coverage. We’re made to feel like we owe them every minute, and every ounce of energy in our bodies.

But it’s not a bad job. I like it, actually. I like my boss and my co-workers. The organization has good people at the top, but it follows the pattern of the rest of America when it comes to pay and benefits, at least for us support staff. Nurses are paid well, but overworked. It’s just a big ole mess, but very typical. My department is a sinking ship. They’re to the point of bringing in contract workers that make twice as much as people that have been there for 40+ years. If they just paid a couple dollars more an hour, and enhanced the benefits (it’s not all about money) they’d have long-term workers. I don’t understand why they can’t bring themselves to do that.

And if they think the soon-to-be ended enhanced unemployment benefits are going to bring back desperate workers willing to work for any pay, they’re dreaming. Once people realize how hard the work is, they leave.

I have absolutely no sympathy for those businesses struggling to find workers, because it’s their own fault. If you’ve been taking advantage of people with low pay and crappy benefits for years, then what did you expect? When you do wrong, you’ll eventually pay the price. Call it Karma or God’s judgement, but when you mistreat people, there’s a consequence.

My dad used to be proud to work at Caterpillar. It used to be a great place to work, but now it’s a joke. And everybody knows it. People know they’re being used to line somebody else’s pocket.

Nobody wants to work because there’s no point to it anymore. If you can’t pay the most basic bills, enjoy your life, and have a retirement to look forward to, then why work? It really just comes down to that.

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