Labor daze

Stewart’s Shop at 1226 Washington St. in Watertown advertises available jobs in window paint in May. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

On this Labor Day, U.S. employers face serious challenges in their quest to resume a normal routine.

The novel coronavirus pandemic forced many companies to either scale back their operations or cease entirely. Some weren’t able to recover and closed for good.

It took months for others to improve their productivity. Hiring has at times been very sluggish. Despite the loosening of social distancing restrictions, many job vacancies have gone unfilled.

To a significant extent, this is because American workers don’t want to return to business as usual. They believe they finally have the leverage needed to enhance their work environments.

Many workers are concerned about their well-being on the job. With infections rates increasing in some parts of the country, they remain reluctant about coming back into the office. This is hitting some industries particularly hard.

“The rapidly escalating surge in COVID-19 infections across the U.S. has caused a shortage of nurses and other front-line staff in virus hot spots that can no longer keep up with the flood of unvaccinated patients and are losing workers to burnout and lucrative out-of-state temporary gigs,” according to a story published Aug. 10 by NPR.

The federal government enhanced unemployment benefits during the pandemic, first by adding $600 weekly and then reducing this to $300 weekly. Critics believe this is what has held many workers back: They can get paid to not work.

This factor will soon be a non-factor. Ironically, the federal unemployment bonus will expire tomorrow — on Labor Day!

According to Forbes, stagnant wages and poor working conditions have contributed to the trend of slow hiring. The recent spike in inflation has further strained workers’ finances.

Employees also want “a better work/life balance and scheduling flexibility,” according to Forbes. Working remotely provides them the opportunity to meet their goals, so many companies need to accommodate this.

Women make up many of those who have not yet returned to the workforce. They face specific workplace problems much more than do men.

For example, not knowing if their children’s schools will allow students to attend in person or require virtual learning leaves women guessing on when they’ll be able to go back to the office. In addition, Forbes pointed out that tipped workers (such as waitresses) are subject to sexual harassment much more often than non-tipped workers. The restaurant industry has been severely affected by staff shortages.

“Based on the 2021 Cost of Care Survey, child care is not in the affordable range for most families. Of parents surveyed, 85% say they are spending 10% or more of their household income on child care,” according to “And according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is considered affordable when it costs families no more than 7% of their household income. The survey also finds that more than half of families (57%) spent over $10,000 on child care in 2020, and 59% plan to spend more than $10,000 in 2021, which is more than the average annual cost of in-state college tuition ($9,580) per”

“All of them are caught in the unworkable math of pandemic child care: Too few tuition-paying children to support the needed staff,” according to the story. “Too many new expenses required to keep the doors open safely. Too few loans and grants available to help bridge the gap for the mostly female small-business owners who provide the bulk of the nation’s child care.”

If U.S. companies want to reduce more than 9 million job vacancies, they must take tackle issues that make numerous people reluctant to return to the workforce. Many individuals are taking this opportunity to improve their lives by compelling changes at their offices or finding new jobs.

“The coronavirus pandemic massively disrupted Americans’ working lives, and a new Bankrate survey suggests that it’s causing many of them to now re-evaluate what they want out of their careers,” according to a story published Aug. 23 by “Most Americans (55 percent) who are either employed or looking for a job — what economists would describe as being in the workforce — say they are likely to look for new employment in the next 12 months, according to Bankrate’s August 2021 Job Seeker Survey. Even more surprising, some 28 percent of working Americans who currently say they’re not looking for a new job are still expecting to search for a different position at some point in the next year.”

American workers want more flexibility with their jobs. Many need higher wages, and some believe they should be able to work remotely.

Women, in particular, have endured some unmet needs for years. Waitresses want sexual harassment to cease, and many women require better child care options.

The pandemic is pushing us to reconsider how to structure the workplace to make it more amenable for employees. The economy depends on a vibrant business community. So as we observe Labor Day this year, those who influence it should find ways to reach the goals workers have expressed.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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(2) comments


With the end of extended unemployment workers will be back


Good editorial.

How has the Times put its editorial position into practice?

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