Are the Serfs Rethinking Feudalism?

You’ve probably heard the grumbling about businesses not being able to find enough workers. Where I am, this seems mostly to involve fast-food restaurants, although I’ve seen news reports saying that construction and transportation (mostly truck driver) jobs also are going unfilled. Immediately, the blame is put on enhanced unemployment benefits that are allegedly making workers lazy.

Some Republican governors are taking matters into their own hands and canceling the extended benefits to force people back to work. Montana is cutting out the extra $300 and will instead offer a one-time bonus of $1,200 to people who get jobs. This past week South Carolina also announced the end of the $300, but no bonus. Other red states are expected to follow.

I’ve seen a number of articles analyzing the so-called worker shortage that say this situation isn’t so simple. Low-wage food service workers in particular have been rethinking the meaning of life and aren’t that eager to return, especially while the pandemic is still going on. “Many workers still don’t feel safe returning to work during a pandemic. Others don’t want to fight with patrons over health and safety guidelines. Some may have left town or joined another industry while they were laid off and will return when the timing and opportunity are right,” it says here.

(This is from 2014, but I don’t know that things have changed since then — 40 Percent of Restaurant Workers Live in Near-Poverty.)

And maybe some people are reconsidering their lives and how they want to spend them. Here is a hint about which people we’re talking about:

But another way to look at this is there is a great reassessment going on in the U.S. economy. It’s happening on a lot of different levels. At the most basic level, people are still hesitant to return to work until they are fully vaccinated and their children are back in school and day care full time. For example, all the job gains in April went to men. The number of women employed or looking for work fell by 64,000, a reminder that child-care issues are still in play.

Do tell.

There is also growing evidence — both anecdotal and in surveys — that a lot of people want to do something different with their lives than they did before the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak has had a dramatic psychological effect on workers, and people are reassessing what they want to do and how they want to work, whether in an office, at home or some hybrid combination.

A Pew Research Center survey this year found that 66 percent of the unemployed had “seriously considered” changing their field of work, a far greater percentage than during the Great Recession. People who used to work in restaurants or travel are finding higher-paying jobs in warehouses or real estate, for example. Or they want to a job that is more stable and less likely to be exposed to the coronavirus — or any other deadly virus down the road. Consider that grocery stores shed over 49,000 workers in April and nursing care facilities lost nearly 20,000.

See also On this Mother’s Day, the crisis for working moms is hard to miss by Karla L. Miller.

Women suffered major job losses this year — partly because majority-female industries were the hardest hit by the pandemic, but also because no human can sustain the dual full-time duties of caring for minor children and performing a full-time job.

As a one-time single mother, I endorse that. I spent a large part of my adult life in a stage beyond burnout, giving neither my children nor my job the time I wanted to give them, because there wasn’t enough time. The pandemic gave a lot of mothers a blessed opportunity to get off the hamster wheel for a while. For those working office jobs from home, however …

Even in dual-earner families where both parents were able to work from home, it was primarily moms who took the hit in paid hours to focus on children’s schooling and care. Plenty of articles covered this phenomenon, but nothing captured it for me quite like the New York Times photo of a mother on a work call helping her child go potty while, on the other side of the bathroom wall, the child’s father took his work call in a clean, quiet home office.

I am sure there are lots of fathers who stepped up, of course. And I’m sure there are men rethinking their work lives as well.

Here’s another interesting bit, from White House grapples with reports of labor shortage, inflation as recovery picks up steam.

Typically, tight labor markets would correspond with wage growth at the bottom end of the income distribution as firms compete for workers. But economists and administration officials have yet to see that jump, suggesting that a shortage is not a major problem.

I believe that’s saying that the frustrated employers who can’t fill jobs haven’t raised their wages yet. Why is that?

Talk of higher wages inevitably sparks fearmongering over higher prices and inflation. What I want to gently suggest here is that this economy thing isn’t working. It’s not working if it depends on huge numbers of people being grossly underpaid and overworked, stuck in poverty, perpetually falling short in meeting family responsibilities and even getting enough sleep. I say we need to step back and rethink employment entirely. I’m not sure what the solution is, but there has to be a better way.

9 thoughts on “Are the Serfs Rethinking Feudalism?

  1. Economics, the dismal science that it is, agrees on one idea.  Employment is a lagging indicator of the state of the economy.  Why is the horse hitched behind the cart by the Republicans again?

  2. Reality:  The Covid-19 Pandemic is NOT anywhere near under control.  Until it is controlled world-wide, it will NOT be completely controlled in the US.

    The same damn people who insisted that Covid-19 was a hoax or was no worse than a cold and refused to wear masks are still controlling state and local governments which would rather mollify the deluded masses than end the pandemic.

    It is rational for workers in grocery stores and restaurants and such to not want to be in that working environment – even if they were paid a livable wage which most are not.

    Best line I have seen today…

    "If you don't want to pay a livable wage, flip your own damn hamburgers."



    • Covid is out of the bag, and it ain't going back in anytime soon.  A few countries (East Asia, NZ/Aus) clamped down hard enough to eradicate it within their boundaries, but that only worked in countries with effective Governments which valued national Health over Business- & Leisure-Class travel, and also had the power to enforce rules within their own borders (USA failed on both counts).

      So, Covid has gone from Pandemic to Endemic – like the Flu did a century ago.  Getting rid of it now would require global coordination, which is impossible under the current framework of international relations, which I'd describe as "semi-post-Westphalian".  Countries still ostensibly have "sovereignty" inside their borders, but US  has (ab)used our military & financial dominance to enforce our will around the world.  US political instability (specifically, GOP insanity) has eroded our global control/influence (yay, kinda), but simultaneously constricts paths toward peaceful international cooperation… even against obvious global threats like Covid.

  3. About that "better way," you can bet your last penny that it won't be a conservative who to comes up with it.

    Or to help come up with it.

    Or to help implement it.

    Or to help maintain it!

    Or work to help improve it.

    So, what WILL conservatives do if that "better way" becomes the standard?

    They WILL complain about it.

    They WILL try to undermine it.

    And they WILL work like hell to destroy it.

    Since the prefix (of sorts) is the same, you'd think that being CONservative, they'd be great at CONstruction.


    Instead, here's the prefix that's identical:

    These amoral DEgenerates are great at DEstruction.

  4. I am one of those who went through profound internal shifts / realizations / surfacing of shadow material during the pandemic. Those of us who had a large backlog of interior work were transformed during COVID, IF they were capable: financially + timewise. It was one of the best years of my life, second only to the gift of being able to go away to a state university for college.

    I am certain I'm not alone in this, although my circumstances for dealing with this may have been more favorable than many.

    Like emerging from the subway, after a long ride, it's going to take some time to adjust to the new above ground reality.

    Now, if we could only get rid of these pesky Republicans…like stupid roaches crawling on the ground….



  5. Restaurant owners in my region (New England) are complaining about not being able to bring in enough H2B workers this year.  When asked about attracting more local workers with higher wages, they universally claim that there aren't enough locals available.  I'm skeptical, but this might be true, especially since rental costs in tourist areas have gone through the roof.  Probably several factors, but one is that short-term rentals (AirBnB, etc) can be way more profitable than long-term rentals, so too much RE in tourist areas has been converted from year-long leasing to weekly rentals.  Locals can't afford $1,500/month rent on $10/hr.  (and Restaurant owners often provide cheap (barracks style?) housing for H2B workers).

    But the first big thing we – USA – could & should do to make life better (& cheaper) for people working hourly jobs is a national Health Care (Payment) system.  Seems to me that this would make things much better for (Small?) Employers too: (1) no more yearly negotiations with huge Insurance Companies; (2) removes HR hassles caused by having to limit workers to 28 Hrs/Wk to avoid having to provide Benefits, and (3) reduces problem of people working while sick (which is stupid-crazy in food service).

    • A national healthcare system, or opening up Medicare for anyone who wants to buy in, would be huge for employers.  The cost for maintaining health care for small to medium companies is a huge factor in their ability to maintain financial viability and stay in business.  I wonder why more companies aren't more vocal in calling for it.

  6. Why get a job when the end of the world is happening by the middle of next week?  Oh and who needs a job when you are worth a fortune in crypto currency, or stocks like Game Stop?  Why get the Vax when an elected Arizona state official claims it will turn you into a potted plant?  Oh he is a Republican.

    This all begs the big question which is Why do so many have trouble separating fact from fiction and why do they continue to listen to those who are chronic purveyors of blatantly dubious and biased information or even outright lies?

    Now we heat the Kentucky Derby winner failed a drug test.  Is their no honor left?   The Derby is not a State Fair race.  To queer this race is unconscionable and a permanent stain on the reputation of the sport.  

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