Employment and Jobs

Don’t Blame Workers for a Shortage of Good Jobs

August 26, 2021  • Maureen Conway & Mark G. Popovich

Maureen Conway (Vice President, The Aspen Institute; Executive Director, Economic Opportunities Program) and Mark Popovich (Director, Good Companies/Good Jobs initiative) penned a letter to the editor in response to a recent article on the current “labor shortage.” Their commentary—reposted below—originally appeared in the Washington Post.

The Aug. 22 Business article “Now hiring: Inquire within” explored Memphis employers’ concerns about finding workers for leisure and hospitality businesses after the economic disruption of the pandemic. Their pain is real. But their current problems should not be framed as a function of workers’ choices — workers did not choose to lose their livelihoods overnight, and many still have few good choices.

Economist Marianne Wanamaker said, “People left the labor market in droves . . . and they’re not coming back.” But employers abandoned workers, not vice versa. In March and April 2020, 80 percent of people who left jobs were laid off. In Memphis’s Shelby County, 1 in 3 jobs in the hospitality sector was lost in just one month.

More than a year later, employers want workers to pick up where they left off. One employer pays $8 per hour, and another has raised pay to $11 to $14 per hour. That is not nearly enough to live on, and far less than the average $21 per hour offered by fast-growing warehouse and storage employers. Tennessee’s $275-per-week maximum unemployment benefit is an unlikely culprit for the “worker shortage,” especially because many food and hospitality workers earn too little to qualify for benefits.

We have many labor market and economic problems, but we should not blame workers for problems that clearly are not a function of their choices.


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The #laborshortage myth suggests people don’t want to work, but the truth is far more complicated. In a letter to the @washingtonpost, @conway_maureen and @mpopov1229 confront this misleading narrative.

“We have many labor market and economic problems, but we should not blame workers for problems that clearly are not a function of their choices.” Read more from @conway_maureen and @mpopov1229 in their letter to the @washingtonpost.


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