PRESS EDITORIAL: Who will do the work?

The end-of-summer holiday observed this week was established to celebrate work. Labor Day was declared a federal holiday in 1894 as a salute to all whose work in the jobs that were their livelihoods helped make the economy of the United States the most powerful in the world and its living standard among the highest. The essential meaning of Labor Day is that work is honorable.

In the time of Labor Day 2022, there are signs that has become an outdated concept. A portion of the potential workforce prefers not to work, at least not in any job perceived as a less than ideal fit with their chosen lifestyle.

The term “the great resignation” was coined to describe a movement in the past two years, which became sort of a social media fad, to quit jobs in search of more free time or more desirable opportunities. In a single month—May 2022—4.4 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The phenomenon of voluntary unemployment adds to a collision of factors that have created a labor shortage so acute it threatens economic growth and American prosperity.

Because they cannot find enough workers to fully staff their operations, even after offering sharply increased pay and perks such as signing bonuses, many employers have had to cut back on production and services. Some have been forced out of business.

The labor shortage, with its impact on the supply and delivery of products and services, is a major driver of the inflation that plagues the economy.

It is not an accident that this developed in the aftermath of the pandemic. Savings grew when spending was constrained by the Covid shutdown, limiting the urgency of getting back to work. For some, the dread disease was a reminder that life is short and an impetus to spend more time on leisure and less on work. Working remotely in the comfort of home became so appealing that even when it was no longer necessary, some workers demanded it of employers that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, offer it. The disruption of the pandemic added to a breakdown of reliable, affordable childcare services that still keeps many parents out of the workforce.

These are real and understandable contributing factors in the labor crisis, but beneath them is a growing sense that work, with its disciplines and demands, is no longer regarded as an essential component of a high-functioning society.

That mentality got an unfortunate boost when, in an affront to working-class citizens,   the Biden administration announced it would cancel $10,000 to $20,000 per borrower in federal student loan debt.

This taxpayer-funded giveaway benefits those who went to college at the expense of those who didn’t. The latter group represents 60% of the population, mostly men and women who went directly to work after high school. They are among the taxpayers who will have to cover the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in forgiven student debt.

Meanwhile, the country needs answers to the question of what to do about its shortage of workers.

Instead of handing out benefits to people who have used government loans to get a college degrees, the federal government should be using those funds to ensure that access to sources of job training and retraining, including community colleges, is affordable.

The Biden administration should be working on ways to encourage more legal immigration. The American economy has outgrown its aging population. It needs an influx of new citizens-to-be and new workers.

Labor unions should be helping to provide answers. The substantial rise in wages and benefits resulting from the labor shortage has benefitted their members. Now unions should be acting to increase the workforce, and with it union membership, by more vigorously promoting apprenticeships and training programs.

And somehow the dignity of work has to be restored.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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