“Now hiring!” You’ve probably seen a lot of hiring signs hanging in the windows of many retail stores and restaurants. It seems like everywhere you go, there is a chronic shortage of people willing to work in these less than glamorous jobs. Some companies are increasing wages and offering signing bonuses as they attempt to recruit top talent. While other companies, unable to do such, are struggling to keep their doors open. Some are even going out of business!
My wife and I recently engaged in some retail therapy. While we were out and about shopping, we struck up a conversation with a store manager at a local retailer here in Charlotte. And, after a few minutes, the store manager began to feel comfortable enough to tell us she hadn’t had a day off in a while, because she couldn’t find anyone to work the store. She said she was in much need of vacation, but wouldn’t be able to go on any vacation until she found someone to man the store in her absence. And right there, out of the blue, the manager of this retail store offered me and my wife jobs, as we were shopping.
So all this got me to thinking… how did we get to the place where the manager at a local retail store was openly complaining about how much she had to work, and then thinking my wife and I would be good hires as we shopped around the store?
I know my wife and I are amazing people. But I got the feeling this manager was looking for any “warm body” she could find to open the store, work a register, and stock some merchandise. She was nothing short of desperate.
So, how’d this come about? Well… let’s look at a couple stories in the recent news.
Retail Workers Resign At Record Rates In April
As recently reported by the Washington Post:
“Hiring now” signs are cropping up on storefronts big and small as retailers scramble to fill openings. Many have raised wages or benefits to keep up. Target, Best Buy, Under Armour and Kay Jewelers all recently increased starting minimums to $15 an hour, while Amazon is offering sign-on bonuses as high as $1,000 to new employees.
Retail workers, drained from the pandemic and empowered by a strengthening job market, are leaving jobs like never before.
Americans are ditching their jobs by the millions, and retail is leading the way with the largest increase in resignations of any sector. Some 649,000 retail workers put in their notice in April, the industry’s largest one-month exodus since the Labor Department began tracking such data more than 20 years ago.
“It was a really dismal time, and it made me realize this isn’t worth it,” said 23-year-old Aislinn Potts of Murfreesboro, Tenn., who left her $11-an-hour job as an aquatic specialist at a national pet chain in April to focus on writing and art. “My life isn’t worth a dead-end job.”
In interviews with more than a dozen retail workers who recently left their jobs, nearly all said the pandemic introduced new strains to already challenging work: longer hours, understaffed stores, unruly customers and even pay cuts.
“We’re seeing a wider understanding that these were never good jobs and they were never livable jobs,” said Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. “In many cases, the pay is below a living wage and the hours are inconsistent and insufficient. If anything, the pandemic has made retail jobs even less sustainable than they already were.”
It is too soon to tell, she said, whether the latest exodus reflects a long-term shift away from retail work. Some employees, for example, may return to the industry once child care is more readily available and other pandemic-related challenges ease, but others are turning to industries where workers are in high demand.
Hiring Surges In June
As recently reported by CNBC:
The leisure and hospitality sector again proved the brightest point of the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report with 343,000 positions added in June as restaurants hired droves of cooks, bartenders and service staff. The number represents the sector’s second-best print of 2021.
As the industry that saw the most intense layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic, leisure and hospitality has posted a powerful rebound since spring 2020. While the industry lost about half of its entire workforce in between March and April of 2020, June’s jobs report shows that it has now recouped some 73% of those losses.
Leisure and hospitality is about 13% below its pre-pandemic payroll count at 14.7 million employees. Bars and restaurants alone accounted for more than 190,000 payrolls in June.
How all of these employment issues “post COVID” work out, remains yet to be seen. But I think however it works out, we must remember that human beings are worthy of dignity, respect, and fair wages that allow them to make a reasonable living.
And whether that comes simply through the market forces associated with free market capitalism creating better working conditions and providing better wages for all, or if this should be the result of government regulation, or some combination of the two, remains yet to be seen.
But in the midst of all this, we must realize that both employees and employers are struggling to get the balancing act right. Some employers are too small, and simply cannot afford to pay people more than they do. And as a result, larger corporations can offer more competitive pay, that ultimately sucks away the best talent from smaller companies, resulting in many mom and pop places simply going out of business because they aren’t big enough to compete in the marketplace.
And maybe you might cheer over places that pay sub-optimal wages struggling to keep their doors open and eventually going out of business. But keep in mind, as the old saying goes, the ultimate “minimum wage” is zero dollars. And while it might stink to have a job that doesn’t pay you very well, I think most people would agree that a crappy job that pays a little is better than a job that pays nothing at all.
What’s the solution to all this? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t know! But whatever the answer is, I think we are going to see some yet painful employment figures in the near future in the world of retail, restaurants, and hospitality. Things might be getting better. But I think there’s still a very bumpy road ahead.
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