Should “Workforce” mean forcing workers to take crappy jobs?

A recent headline blared: “Labor shortages end when wages rise.”

Gosh, Captain Obvious, what an amazing discovery! Someone notify the Nobel Prize committee, for surely this revolutionary revelation will win this year’s prize in economics. Better yet, someone notify that gaggle of Republican governors whose theory of labor economics begins and ends with the medieval demand that workers be whacked with a stick to make them do what the bosses want.

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At issue is the furious complaint by restaurant chains, nursing homes, Big Ag, and other low-wage employers that they have a critical labor shortage. It seems that millions of workers today are hesitant to take jobs because there’s no affordable childcare, or the jobs they’re offered expose them and their families to COVID-19, or the work itself is abusive and demeaning… or all of the above.

Business chieftains wail that they’ve been advertising thousands of jobs for waiters, poultry workers, nursing assistants, and such, but they can’t get enough takers. So, corporate-serving governors have rushed to their rescue. Shouting “Whack ‘em with a stick,” these mingy politicians are stripping away jobless benefits, trying force workers to take any crappy job they’re offered. It gives new meaning to the term “workforce.”

But wait, there’s an honest way to get the workers they need: Offer fair wages! As the owner of a small chain of restaurants in Atlanta notes when he stopped lowballing wages he not only got the workers he needed, but “We started to get a better quality of applicants.” That translated to better service, happier customers, and more business.

The real economic factor in play here is not wages, but value. If you treat employees as cheap, that’s what you’ll get. But if you view them as valuable assets, that’s what they’ll be – and you’ll all be better off.

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