I live near a Sonic Drive-In restaurant that has been closed lately during business hours. At first, I thought it closed for good, but yesterday I saw a big HelpWanted sign out front.
Sonic is looking for "crew" workers--$10 per hour. It's looking for cooks--$12 an hour. And it's looking for managers--$15 an hour.
I had a lot of low-end jobs when I was young, and I did them willingly. I saved some of the money I made working for a buck an hour and banked it at the Anadarko Bank & Trust, where it earned three percent interest.
I was willing to do those jobs because I was confident about my future. Someday, I told myself, I would have a middle-class job and a middle-class lifestyle.
Yesterday, as I drove by that closed Sonic Drive-In, I found myself wondering how many young Americans are willing to work for $10 or $12 an hour.
Before the pandemic, many adults in my town were willing to work low-wage jobs. But then things changed.
During the pandemic, many unemployed Louisianians received enhanced unemployment checks--equivalent to an annual salary of about $40,000. According to a 2020 Brookings report, $40,000 a year puts a family of four in the middle class.
Forty thousand dollars a year not to work; that's a pretty sweet deal. How many people who got that deal are willing to flip Sonic burgers or do other menial work for 40 hours a week only to earn an annual salary of $25,000?
Not too damn many, judging from the Help Wanted signs I see all over Baton Rouge.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the national economy created about half a million jobs last month, and that unemployment is down to only 3.5 percent. That's terrific news.
However, remember that the 3.5 percent unemployment rate only measures people looking for work. Millions of Americans aren't looking.
They certainly aren't looking for the countless minimum-wage service jobs in the United States: big-box store clerks, airport baggage handlers, burger flippers, and receptionists.
Years ago, economists predicted that the United States would transform itself from being a manufacturing economy to a service economy. In the future, the pundits predicted, manufactured goods would be assembled in Asia while Americans would perform high-end services--medical care, research, financial services, legal services, and education.
That prediction turned out to be a pipe dream. It is true that Americans don't manufacture much anymore, but most of them aren't working in high-end service professions.
No, Americans are finding tons of jobs in the low-end service sector: jobs that pay between $10 and $15 an hour: hotel maids, fast-food cooks, delivery truck drivers, and retail sales workers.
Until the Covid pandemic, many Americans were willing to do those jobs, at least until they could find something better. However, once they got a taste of what it was like to raise their living standard by not working, they became unwilling to lower their living standard just so they could go home at the end of the day smelling like a hamburger.
That's my opinion anyway. Would you like fries with it?
|Ten bucks an hour to smell like a hamburger?