“Nobody wants to work!”

That’s been the mantra issued again and again by business owners who cannot find hires for jobs that pay one-half of a living wage, and by the comfortable bourgeoisie who see this lack of low-paid servants as a crisis, and by politicians and candidates who use it as a dogwhistle in their continuing efforts to make life worse for poor and working people.

House Whip Jon Hardister tweeted about his troubles finding a restaurant table this past weekend, naming the federal unemployment supplement as the culprit for all this laziness.

The federal unemployment supplement has dropped from $600 to $300 a week, and is set to expire on Sept. 6. Yet 25 states have already enacted legislation to end it early, in June or July.

But why?

The indisputable facts on the ground: Employment numbers are way up — 559,000 new jobs in May, the best report since the pandemic descended. Wages are rising. The unemployment rate is down below 6 percent for the first time in a year, which means that fewer people are collecting this $300 that the aforementioned seem to resent so much.

Yet many service jobs remain unfilled in our communities: restaurants who can’t staff up, retail shops contracting their hours, hiring vacancies for people who sweep, clean and wipe stuff.

So it’s also fact that many people don’t want to work, but let’s not forget the corollary: They don’t want to work for low wages. The reasons for this are as much sociological and psychological as they are due to economics.

The federal unemployment supplement is definitely a factor. That extra $600 a week was intended to turn lackluster state unemployment programs into an actual living wage. For some in North Carolina, it was the most money they had ever taken home before.

But it didn’t make them lazy. It made them think.

It made people see a living wage as more than a concept and quantify the pain of stagnating wages. Amid a pandemic that has already killed almost 600,000 Americans, people recalibrated the value of the rest of their lives, and the ways they choose to spend it.


  1. Like I’ve said this before. Congress and State legislatures, must enact a “SUSTAINABLE LIVING WAGE(S), not a MINIMUM WAGE(S).

  2. So right! This past year has also seen a quiet and largely unacknowledged boom in small-scale entrepreneurship: if people are going to work for a low wage they want to be working for themselves, and they want to be working towards something that could grow.

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