Busting the “Laziness” Narrative

“We can’t get workers.”

“No one wants to work anymore.”

“People are being lazy.”

Nahhh. I don’t think people are being lazy. I think they’re finally allowing themselves to breathe. And the combination of unemployment benefits and stimulus checks have given them the leverage to say no to unattractive working conditions that don’t allow them to live a real life.

I can attest to the joy of finding this economic leverage. I discovered it by accident back when I first started my ultralow-footprint lifestyle journey. In the course of cutting my footprint I gained a high level of financial autonomy and occupational freedom. Now millions of other people are getting a taste of this autonomy and freedom. And I’m cheering them on.

This morning my social-media feed served up a couple of good reads that bust the “laziness” narrative:

“Something strange is happening to the exhausted, type-A millennial workers of America. After a year spent hunched over their MacBooks, enduring back-to-back Zooms in between sourdough loaves and Peloton rides, they are flipping the carefully arranged chessboards of their lives and deciding to risk it all.

“Some are abandoning cushy and stable jobs to start a new business, turn a side hustle into a full-time gig or finally work on that screenplay. Others are scoffing at their bosses’ return-to-office mandates and threatening to quit unless they’re allowed to work wherever and whenever they want.

“They are emboldened by rising vaccination rates and a recovering job market. Their bank accounts, fattened by a year of stay-at-home savings and soaring asset prices, have increased their risk appetites. And while some of them are just changing jobs, others are stepping off the career treadmill altogether.

(“Welcome to the YOLO Economy”; Kevin Roose in New York Times.)

And this:

“Some of these unfillable jobs are in places without affordable housing — or, like Missoula, where cost of living has continued to rise over the course of the pandemic. Others are seasonal and/or tourist-adjacent. Many are at restaurants, particularly fast-food. Some are at retail stores with unpredictable scheduling. What goes unsaid in many of these stories is the fact that the jobs are shit jobs, whether because of the unsustainability of the pay, the Covid exposure, or the shit treatment they’ll receive from tourists.

“Stick with me here, but what if people weren’t lazy — and instead, for the first time in a long time, were able to say no to exploitative working conditions and poverty-level wages? And what if business owners are scandalized, dismayed, frustrated, or bewildered by this scenario because their pre-pandemic business models were predicated on a steady stream of non-unionized labor with no other options? It’s not the labor force that’s breaking. It’s the economic model. …

“I’m exhausted by all of these restaurants wondering why they can’t find workers — and I’m also exhausted by all of these corporations wondering why they can’t retain parents (and mothers in particular), why they can’t recruit (or retain) BIPOC workers with policies that stipulate that they have to live in Seattle or Portland, why their barely-paid internship program is so enduringly white, why their workers keep trying to unionize, why their invocations to ‘take some time if you need it’ have been insufficient, why initial spikes of pandemic productivity has plateaued or declined.

“In truth, this isn’t the YOLO Economy so much as the ‘Capitalism is Broken’ Economy …”

(“The ‘Capitalism Is Broken’ Economy”; Anne Helen Petersen, substack.com)

Recently I wrote this post expressing my hopes that we are entering a “seller’s market” for labor. Looks like that’s happening.