It’s all about perspective.
We all have made much ado about workers during the past few years — mostly from the perspective of consumers, employers or government agencies that now suffer the negative effects of a tight labor market.
And for good reason.
But from those points of view, the employment upheaval of the past year is a crisis, not an evolution.
We arrive at this Labor Day in the midst of a work revolution that, in many cases widely benefits working and middle-class people. It’s a seismic pivot spurred by a disruptive force not seen in any of our lifetime.
The state of labor in our country and our community has shifted drastically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A massive repositioning that hasn’t yet come to rest.
The disruption hasn’t been easy on anyone, especially people who work.
First came millions of folks effectively unemployed overnight when the coronavirus and public health measures meant to combat it swept our nation. Many suddenly found themselves fighting through the technological jungle as they tried desperately to register for unemployment benefits that would ensure they could pay rent and mortgages.
At several junctures the outlook was bleak for those of us who punch clocks to pay bills.
Simultaneously, workers in industries that depended upon offices full of people working on internet-connected computers found themselves clocking hours from home. Kitchen tables became cubicles and many managers finally were forced to abandoned the dusty “presence is productivity” mentality that for decades persisted despite its obsolescence.
Successful managers evolved, worked harder and created new parameters that benefit their staffers and their employers. Others did not.
Then came a sharp rebound in demand for workers as many in-person industries reopened. Unemployment plummeted from nearly 15 percent to 5.2 percent between April 2020 and last month. That sudden thirst for hands and minds arrived at a moment of exodus from our workforce.
The break from daily drives and grinds was a godsend to many of our neighbors. Workers we know spent the past 18 months rethinking what they want from a career. Retooling household budgets. Retraining.
Some who were close to retirement simply decided it’s time to step back and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Others realized the family time they sacrificed for work was worth more than wages minus child care costs. Many found needed balance between work and home.
Many others continue to find themselves squeezed between inflating consumer and housing prices, scant child care resources and outdated wage and benefit structures.
Some have widely blamed boosted unemployment payments initiated by the Trump administration and in part continued in many states by the Biden administration. Yet, in places where state lawmakers have halted the payments months ago, workers didn’t flood back to the market.
The fact is, today’s workers operate in a seller’s market not afforded to their parents or grandparents. They can, and will, go elsewhere (sometimes remotely across the country) for better opportunities. They have leverage to ask for better wages, working conditions or management.
Many of us find ourselves impacted by all these changes and more — coping with short staffing at work, long waits at restaurants, limited hours at retailers and scant availability from contractors and skilled laborers.
Yet, on the flip side of many of those inconveniences are symptoms of someone else finding opportunity.
Opportunity for better work. Opportunity for better balance. Opportunity for change.