Kyle Troutman: To work, or not to work?

Saturday, May 15, 2021

As we start to ease out of the COVID-19 pandemic, gainful employment is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics around, especially on the national stage, but also with local ties.

Some businesses, chain restaurants especially, have had to shut their doors in recent weeks due to not having enough staff to operated the business.

The right blames the crisis of workers on the government and its pandemic unemployment allowances, while the left blames the crisis on a failure by said businesses to offer competitive pay.

A note I saw this week on social media, posted by a tech company’s employees, stuck out to me. It read:

“Sorry but we are closed due to no staff. Turns out no one wants to work anymore. We are now hiring. If you would like to apply, please go to our website, fill out an online application, then submit a resume with all of the exact same information you included in the application, as well as a cover letter which summarizes the things in the resumé and application. We prefer someone with five years experience on the niche software that literally no one uses except us. Starting wages range from $11 to $16 an hour (LOL just kidding, it’s $11 for everyone). You will also be subjected to humiliating personality and drug testing as a means to test how willing you are to surrender your dignity for $400 a week, so prepare yourself for that mentally. Oh, also, even though we’re desperate for staff, we won’t call you for an interview until six weeks from now.”

Prior to my journalism career more than a decade ago now, I only had two jobs, one as a soccer referee, and another in college as a delivery driver for Domino’s.

As a referee, I made good money. The easiest route was about $150 for six hours on a Sunday, but on tournament weekends in larger cities, I could work 10 games in a weekend and rake in $400 easily, plus mileage.

At Domino’s, I made minimum wage, which was $6.65 per hour, plus tips. The most I ever made in tips in an 8-hour shift was $150. Weekly, I probably averaged about $250 in tips, plus my $266 in wages. Annually, that put me at about $26,000.

By the time I left Domino’s in 2011, new delivery drivers were hired at server wages, $2.63 per hour at the time, plus tips. Had I been moved to that wage, I would have made about $350 per week and about $18,500 per year.

Normal minimum wage plus tips made for a decent gig. That coupled with my refereeing and I look back to my younger days and wish I had spent less money on incidentals and put a bit more in savings. I felt bad for those coming in at the server wage. To them, it was a solid job. To me, It wasn’t enough to be putting miles on my own vehicle for that pay.

As the tech company employees’ note illustrated, job value has become a question lately, and some business owners have found themselves on the wrong end of the scale.

Since January, Missouri has been paying a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, part of the second COVID-19 relief bill, down from the $600 supplement last year when unemployment in Barry County hit 10 percent. Missouri maxes out normal unemployment at $320 per week, meaning at most, a person on unemployment right now would make $620 weekly.

Compare that to a minimum wage job in Missouri at $9.45 per hour — $378 per week.

According to the calculator on the Missouri Department of Labor website, a minimum wage worker who applied for unemployment right now would get $196.56 per week in unemployment from the state, plus the $300 federal addition for $496.56 per week — 131 percent of earnings if the person got another minimum wage job.

If I was in that position, the smart financial decision would be to take unemployment for as long as possible. Not to mention the impact on mental health. Would I rather take a minimum wage job, possibly with stressful working conditions or unpredictable hours, or stay at home and spend more time with family and take home more money?

The answer to me would be a no-brainer.

The movement against raising the minimum wage always falls back to being the fault of lower-skilled workers. Why can’t they learn a skill and get a better job? If they don’t want to work, they must just be lazy.

If raising the minimum wage would raise the cost of a Big Mac, what does raising the wage of the company’s CEO and other top brass do?

Apparently, nothing.

In fact, according to a report from CBS news this week, a study from the Institute for Policy Studies, which for full disclosure is a left-leaning think tank, found that 51 of the 100 largest U.S. employers raised their CEO pay last year by 29 percent.

At the same time, these companies reduced staffing or furloughed their workers, resulting in a 2 percent drop in worker pay.

The most common reason given for the CEO pay hikes was the need to “retain talent.” Imagine how much better off companies would be if they “retained talent” at the frontline level instead of a corporate office.

This isn’t terribly surprising considering the ever-growing CEO-to-worker pay gap. According to the Economic Policy Institute, from 2009 to 2019, CEO compensation grew 105.1 percent. Typical workers, on the other hand, only saw wages rise by a paltry 7.6 percent over the same time period.

Ratios of CEO-to-worker pay in the last nearly 60 years provide even more contrast. In 1965, CEOs made 21 times what their average worker made. That grew to 31 times by 1978, 61 times by 1989, 118 times by 1995 and 320 times by 2019.

Much of that increase can be attributed to stock gains. CEOs benefit greatly when their companies gain on Wall Street, which has some spillover into other top earners in companies, but hardly to the frontline workers.

Gov. Mike Parson ended Missouri’s participation in the federal COVID unemployment supplement this week, so when it goes away on June 12 and workers are forced back to pre-pandemic unemployment and wages, what will the impact be?

How many people will lose that extra $118.56 per week, and what effect would that have on their spending habits? Less money in the pockets of the average Joes means fewer Big Macs they have the spending power to buy.

On the contrary, more money in their pockets means more spending power. Look no further than the sales tax receipts of local cities and counties in the past year for proof of how profound a difference that can make. While the decline in travel in the last year has boosted local spending, so has the unemployment boost and stimulus checks, which will not be coming back.

Some local companies have resorted to hiring bonuses to draw workers back to employment. The Cassville McDonald’s recently offered a $300 hiring bonus for new employees.

While the perk seemed to be born out of a necessity for employees, how far does a hiring bonus truly go when said employee will ultimately go back to making less than if he or she was receiving the boosted unemployment.

Free market capitalism runs both ways, and we as a nation have to find a way to do better for our workers, which in turn, will benefit us all in the long-run.

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Monett Times since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-235-3135 or editor@monett-times.com.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: