The problem is not that people are lazy — although some undoubtedly are
America has been buzzing with controversy over some states opting out of federal pandemic unemployment assistance. The unemployment-extension, provided to American’s, was set to expire in September. But many Governors have chosen to opt-out in June because they want more people back to work.
Some Americans are more worried about businesses that cannot find employees, while others are primarily concerned with families that will be displaced.
Yes, it is true, low-paying positions are unfilled, and businesses are closing early and turning away business because of it. Indeed, some people cannot get their jobs back while others do not wish to get their jobs back.
It is also true that, for some, there are no positions available. That is unless they want to take a pay cut, lose their homes, and resort to sub-par living conditions.
The same socio-economic problems that we avoid related to systemic racism are the debilitating problems that leave low-paying businesses desperate for workers.
There are many variables to consider here. Therefore, minimizing the problem to “people are just lazy” is lazy.
Who we’re calling lazy
There are, of course, those pathologically lazy people — the ones who would give anything to live for free. Some would jump at any opportunity to evade responsibility for their lives. But, this is true of any system. You always have those who wish to take and not give. And many figure out how to do so. That is true regardless and is not the cause of so many open positions in America — while so many people are unemployed.
Some people are not lazy at all. Some people just realized they were getting screwed all along, while others are getting screwed now.
I, for example, would be getting screwed as we speak — had I not predicted this situation and governed myself accordingly. Had my family not moved across the country in November, we would be losing our home in June. We could have likely stretched it to August, but June would be the beginning.
I was a restaurant manager pre-pandemic. Managing was my primary source of income.
The news tells you that there are plenty of restaurant positions available. But they don’t tell you that because of the crippling financial losses due to COVID, they are hiring salary positions back with a substantial pay cut and inadequate health care. They don’t tell you that the hiring pool is so huge that it is nearly impossible for someone without high-level experience to get an entry-level management position. Everyone is taking demotions.
As a service manager with only a few years in restaurant management, I am going up against general managers with 20 years longer in the game. Are there any positions available? Yes. But not ones that would pay for my life and the life of my children. And not ones that pay near what I was making before.
I saw this coming, and we relocated to whether the storm. By relocated, I mean this: we crammed as much of our stuff into and on top of our minivan as possible, sold and stored the rest, paid someone to transport our cats, and drove to a small town in Ohio.
We uprooted our lives to place ourselves in a position of safety.
You see, we lived in an Austin suburb that was not cheap. We loved Texas and Austin, so we paid a lot more to live there. Of course, there are relatively less expensive areas there. But they are all riddled with crime and drugs. You either pay a pretty penny to live or live in a poor community.
We found a way to get somewhere where we could live safely for 1/3 of the cost. It puts us in the position to be okay, regardless. I could pay for our current location serving tables or delivering if I had to.
We will be just fine. I don’t even think I will have to resort to generic cheese if all goes well.
But most people did not do what we did. In fact, many people thought I was impulsive or rash. Many stayed where they were, and many people will not afford their lives come the end of June. These are the people who are getting screwed now. Not everyone has multiple sources of income or contingency plans.
Those people are not lazy because they do not want to take low-paying jobs and downgrade the lives of their families to near poverty. They aren’t lazy because they want to receive adequate health care or send their kids to safe schools.
Then you have the people who already worked low-paying jobs and do not want to go back to those jobs. It is easier to call these people lazy. After all, they just don’t want to work — right? They just want a free ride, yes?
Maybe some do. But in reality, these are the people who have been getting screwed all along. It is only now that they either realized they were getting screwed or tasted what life actually tastes like outside of the rat race.
If you have never lived a minimum wage life in America, I will tell you a story.
The Story of Sarah
Sarah was born into barely middle-class and lived her whole life there. Her family couldn’t afford college, and she couldn’t get a scholarship because she was too busy raising her brothers and sisters.
Raised by a single mother, Sarah had to step up and help her mom. They lived paycheck to paycheck, and her mom had no time to maintain their home or take care of her siblings. Maybe if she got an entry-level position somewhere, she could be promoted and build a career.
Sarah grows up, and so do her siblings. She works in a restaurant and now has children of her own. Although they have a humble life, it is all Sarah knows. It was how she was raised. She is used to the low-pay lifestyle. Shopping for groceries at the dollar store and choosing between body wash or laundry soap is nothing new to her. Hand to mouth was their way of life.
There was hope for advancement at Sarah’s job, and she would think about how amazing it would be to get a raise. Her son needed therapy that — like many things — Medicaid did not cover. If she got the raise, she could afford it.
But when she got the raise, the state canceled her food benefits. She had to use the extra income to pay for groceries but still ended up with less than before. Even with a promotion, she can never seem to get ahead.
Week after week, she works her fingers to the bone — to barely make it. All extra expenses require overtime, so Sarah averages about fifty to sixty hours a week.
She goes on doing that for years. She is so tired that she can barely keep her eyes open long enough to see her children but keeps going so she can feed them.
Then, one day, a world pandemic happens. Because so many people are out of jobs, the government starts sending everyone money. Her restaurant closes, but the government pays her so much unemployment that she is making more than before. And she gets to see her children.
For the first time in her life, Sarah can breathe. She doesn’t have to worry about money because the money she receives is more than enough. She is even able to buy clothes for her children and afford healthy foods. When her family needs something, she can simply purchase it. She doesn’t have to decide what to sacrifice for it or how to get enough money.
For the first time in thirty-some years, Sarah lives. She gets to know her children and herself. She had never been able to stop long enough before.
Sarah finds out that there are things that she likes, like astronomy and painting, in her spare time. She experiences what some simple things feel like — like buying a cup of coffee without feeling guilty or adding mushrooms to her sandwich, without caring that it is seventy-nine cents extra. Sarah can finally stop to smell a flower or sit in the sun and read a book.
For the first time, Sarah can be there for her children. When they are hungry, she is there to feed them. When they are going through challenges, she has time to talk with them. They do finger-paint and cover the sidewalks with hopscotch and inspirational words. Sarah is there to tuck them in at night and wake up with them in the morning. She is present with her children. She is finally able to be present with them because her mind is not overtaken and dispersed.
Sarah lived. And once she lived, she knew what it was like to live.
Is she lazy because she would rather keep living than go back to the fake-gold handcuffs? Is Sarah lazy because she realized that she has been working her life away to pay for a home she never gets to be at? Or feed children she doesn’t have any time with? Is she lazy, or did she just realize that this set-up has been wrong all along?
I don’t think Sarah is lazy at all. Sarah is not the problem — the system is.
The problem here is not that people are lazy, although some undoubtedly are.
The problem is that low-wage workers live in sub-par conditions and receive inadequate health care. It is that our minimum wage (and near) workers cannot afford dental care or proper foods.
The problem is the barriers between socio-economic levels that make it impossible for people like Sarah to improve the quality of their lives.
Writing this debilitating socio-economic problem off as merely the result of people being lazy is lazy. Pot, meet kettle.
Written by Holly Kellums
Originally published on Medium.com
Featured image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay