“No One Wants to Work”: The Gaslighting of the Working Class | Latest updates


The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on a variety of industries, causing businesses to lay off personnel or place them in unsuitable customer-facing positions. Numerous workers have shifted to remote employment, while others have left long-held service industry jobs. The US government was (largely) sympathetic, awarding all Americans stimulus cheques and extending unemployment benefits to those who had lost their jobs.
Nonetheless, once immunisation became effective and state governments eased lockdown measures, something strange began to occur. Small businesses, particularly those in the food/beverage/hospitality industries, began reopening, only to make a shocked Pikachu face when they couldn’t find personnel. Thus began the drumbeat: “As a result of government handouts, no one wants to work.”

This sentence has featured on innumerable whiny posters posted at restaurants, bars, and other service-oriented establishments – frequently in conjunction with a plea to “be patient with the personnel who did show up.”

Those who had worked in the service industry throughout the pandemic, as well as those who had left due of health concerns, were immediately enraged. For years, they had been subjected to disproportionate rates of wage theft, high-risk work, and underpayment as a result of the odd tipping culture prevalent in the United States.

They were now being gaslighted with messages claiming they just did not want to work – a deception designed to avoid paying living wages. Worse, chucklefucks pretending to be economic gurus were excitedly stating that service industry employees did not deserve a living wage… less than a year after gushingly extolling them as “vital workers.”

As someone who has worked in both the service industry and “white-collar” jobs, I found these varied statements disturbingly fascinating. When I worked in retail, I fought for a raise to $8.93 per hour. Yet, in retrospect, the expense of living, combined with the health risks associated with that profession, appeared far too excessive in comparison to what I was paid. I had to deal with animal faeces, unhealthy animals (including some with MRSA) and harsh chemicals while working at PetSmart… then resume sales, cashiering, and customer service responsibilities. I worked 10–12 hour days at times — and yet I was on food stamps due to the fact that my whole salary was spent on bills.

I’d fallen into the fallacy that hard work equaled financial gain and that my hourly commitment was proportional to my earnings. Now I see how ridiculous it is — and how employers are far more ready to exploit labour than they admit.

To Begin, Is a Higher Wage Associated With an Increase in the Cost of Living?

The reality is that living costs have risen dramatically since 2008, while the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant. While some states increased their minimum wage, the majority did not. Indeed, 26 states have enacted legislation prohibiting local governments from increasing the minimum wage.

The belief that increased wages result in increased consumer costs demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of business. No sustainable enterprise charges the same price for a product as it does for labour. As a career counsellor for creatives, I’ve taught this notion to numerous artists: the value you bring is greater than the time required to produce it.

However, restaurateurs appear to have missed this lesson, as they are the first to assert that a higher minimum wage will compel them to increase their pricing. A local news station near me interviewed a restaurant owner following Florida’s (final) increase to $10/hour minimum wage.

“We charge $9.99 for our Ultimate Omelette,” Mel’s Diner owner Scott Carroll explained. “There is no way we can keep it at $9.99. If you look at guys who were making $10, they are suddenly earning $13, $14, which is a 30%–40% increase.”

True, you were charging $10 for an omelette, but increased salaries will need you to increase your prices even further. Carroll provides the facts right there: he anticipates that a 30% rise in wages will result in a $30 increase in product prices.

The point is why he’s equating an hourly wage to the expense of a ten-minute task? Additionally, a product’s cost exceeds the work required to manufacture it. Consideration should be given to materials, value, and profit margin.

This fallacy is evident in a plethora of arguments made in opposition to a livable wage. People will maintain with a straight face that if the minimum wage is hiked, a $5 burger will now cost $20. They appear to believe that each business compensates employees in “burger time” – the amount of time required to prepare one burger sold at the time price.

In reality, restaurants and big-box stores pay pennies on the dollar for inventory and as little as possible for professions requiring great speed, dexterity, and attention to safety requirements — not to mention excellent customer service. Given that numerous service employees have reported receiving extremely aggressive treatment from clients during the epidemic (and this is nothing new), it’s unsurprising that their need for self-preservation outweighs their desire to work for $2.13/hour.

Which returns us to our original question: Is it true that “no one wants to work”? Or are people finally tired of exploitative jobs?

In the Labor Market, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

While some may argue that no one wants to work, this is not the case. We all have to work, whether we like it or not. If we become disabled and are unable to work, we seek for disability aid or social security income – something that future generations will never experience. Unfortunately, work has become a necessary evil, which means that some individuals would oppose a living wage increase merely because they believe that only “hard work” will earn them a fair wage. They dislike their work, but feel that if they can put up with all the nonsense, so should everyone else.

However, what constitutes “hard work”? Being sprayed with hot oil while rushing to deliver food orders to diners in less than 60 seconds must count. According to many conservatives, fast-food employment are not “skilled labour.” They either need individuals to “learn a trade” (e.g., carpentry, electrical work, etc., which are all hazardous and oversaturated professions) or to “leave their employment if they despise it.”

That, indeed, has been the case. From the viral closure of a Chipotle to the extraordinary increase in gig labour, Americans are choosing to work — but not in low-wage positions where they are more likely to be mistreated, abused, and infected with COVID-19. It’s unsurprising that restaurants give the least to prospective employees. Nonetheless, restaurateurs are virtually usually cited as the source of the statement “no one wants to work.” Almost every sign that reads “we are short-staffed owing to handouts” has been displayed at a restaurant, as well as a few mom-and-pop shops.

The lack of self-awareness is truly remarkable. Why would anyone not “want to work” in a culture where it is nearly difficult to live without a job if one does not come from wealth? Extended unemployment benefits, which expired nationally in September and in many states much earlier, were barely enough to cover rent.

Therefore, regardless of whether someone appreciates their employment, they normally appreciate food and shelter.

After more research, it became clear that the true problem is not that “no one wants to work,” but that “we can’t convince people they have nothing else to do.”


Getting Out of the Rat Race

The pandemic has been disastrous, both economically and in terms of human loss. If there is a silver lining, it is that people began to recognise the writing on the wall. They recognised that their families and health came first. If the world were about to end, they desired to cherish the portions of their lives that brought them joy.

After all, heroes in catastrophe films rarely say, “Oof, I’m aware that an asteroid is colliding/dinosaurs are escaping/a pandemic is spreading, but I’ve got to get to work.” My manager Larry pays me only $10 per hour, yet he relies on me.”


Certain individuals recognised that they were earning more on unemployment than in any other possible work, and hence continued to receive benefits. Is it possible to blame them? It is not their fault that prospective employers were unable to match the pittance offered by jobless benefits.

And those employers ought to have done so. Despite widespread perceptions that firms were on the point of closure, many had unparalleled opportunity to get federal assistance.

Of sure, small enterprises faced difficulties. However, many of them continued to be as busy as ever. I’m a marketer that has worked with hundreds of small to medium-sized businesses. Throughout the pandemic, I saw little to no drop in work. They retained the ability to compensate me for promoting their enterprises. In short, millions of dollars were available to assist business owners — while individual Americans received a total of $3,200 over an 18-month period. That totals almost $478 million when dependents are included.

In comparison, almost 10.7 million borrowers received $780 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans. And here’s the catch: these loans were forgiven provided a corporation used the cash to cover only 60% of payroll expenditures — and made “good faith” efforts to rehire.

Regrettably, in this context, “good faith” referred to the Joel Osteen brand. The PPP loans could be completely erased if no former employees matched the following criteria:

Rejection of a written offer of rehire

Was terminated “without cause”

Resigned voluntarily

Additionally, the borrower of a PPP loan may make a “good faith” effort to rebuild its staff, but the loan will be forgiven if they are unable to attract “similarly competent individuals.”

Given that many businesses in the service industry have chosen to discontinue employment — and since at-will employment is the norm in the majority of states — I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Although “good faith” may not hold up in court, it was sufficient for unethical business owners to post jobs with little or no intention of hiring. After all, why not collect relief monies while maintaining merely 60% of your workforce? And if you wanted to cut your personnel, you simply had to name an arbitrary reason, and the firing of that employee would not result in a reduction in your PPP loan.

The unpleasant reality is that none of this is novel. Numerous business owners, particularly in the service industry, gladly maintained a personnel revolving door. Once someone worked their way up, they were let go in favour of a less expensive newcomer. These vocations frequently require lengthy hours, strenuous physical labour, and emotionally taxing activities. However, when a competent applicant applied, they were usually ghosted by the business owner because they were thought too experienced – and hence too pricey.

And yet, the people who work in them are labelled as “unskilled” at best, and “lazy” at worst. Now that the enormous PPP loophole has been exposed as obviously favouring corporate owners who prioritise profits over people, we are beginning to understand the truth:

For years, the working class has been gaslighted.

The Service Industry Is Slavery on a Legal Scale

I encountered dozens of “Karen” experiences during my few years working in retail – and not just from customers. My right to my time, energy, and health extended to the punishing yet “flexible” schedule in which I would face everything from physical assault to death threats.

All of this, plus up to 12 hours on my feet with only a 30-minute break, resulted in an hourly wage of just $8.93. And even obtaining that wage proved challenging. One boss referred to me as “greedy” for requesting additional hours.

However, millennials are slothful, am I correct?

In short, a normal 9-hour shift consisted of 8.5 hours of customer service on my feet, with frequent contact to animal faeces, harsh chemicals, filthy cash, and obnoxious customers who spit in rage when I refused to accept their discount. And for that amount of effort, I made less than $80 after taxes — just enough to cover the cost of the car insurance required to commute to work.

Oh, I should have pursued an education or acquired a skill? I’d graduated with two bachelor’s degrees during the Great Recession at the time. There were no positions available that matched my education.

Once I made it to the white-collar world, I was astounded to discover my cubicle mate spending the most of the day on Facebook. And no, he was not in charge of social media. Everyone was at ease and (relatively) content, spending a good deal of time by the water cooler, brewing coffee, or otherwise wasting time.

They were being compensated at a rate of two to three times what I was earning in my retail job — for doing nothing.

The curse has been broken. Why had I been destroying my body and spirit for a job that could barely pay for a few basic items every hour?

For hundreds of Americans, the pandemic ultimately broke the spell. And employers are enraged that they discovered it.

The age of working-class gaslighting has passed us by.

More people are rejecting professions that require backbreaking, thankless work (and exposure to COVID) in exchange for meagre compensation.

And here is the joyful narrative concealed beneath these “no one wants to work” headlines: numerous Americans have followed those critics’ advice. They have attended school. They’ve acquired a skill. They’ve merely obtained a more advantageous position.

That is why people are avoiding applying for these dreadful jobs. It has nothing to do with unemployment – but, once again, one cannot fault someone for pursuing a position that increases their chances of paying their expenses.

Browse the r/anti-work and r/retailhell subreddits. Take a look at NotAlwaysRight.com. Examine the comments section of any storey about the labour shortage (with a strong drink in hand). While the media interviews business owners who appear to have failed Business 101, their former servers/bartenders/hard labourers are rejoicing in their newly acquired freedom.



Even white-collar individuals like myself have declined low-wage corporate jobs. I’ve been freelancing for two years and have never earned more money in my life. Negotiating individual contract rates is far more lucrative than giving 40 hours of my life per week to a firm that pays me peanuts – and can fire me at any time.

And certainly, it is what occurred in my case. I gave up the majority of my life to obtain a new work, and my supervisor sabotaged me until she could terminate my probation and leave me with no money in a high-cost-of-living location. Why would I apply for comparable positions if the chance of my life being devastated again was so high?

The truth is that I, like many other Americans, genuinely desire employment. Therefore, why would we continue to work for businesses who are unwilling to acquire and keep passionate employees? Nope, we’re going to blaze our own trails.

That is why their accusations about candidates “ghosting” them are particularly compelling. Oh…by failing to show up for scheduled appointments and leaving you in the lurch? Never followed up with candidates following numerous rounds of interviews? As businesses have done to employees for years?

Once again, this is a case of gaslighting. The message is clear: we can treat you horribly, but you require money, which means you must accept our treatment and beg for scraps.

This mindset pervades the majority of the discussion surrounding the living wage and “labour scarcity.” Individuals in need must endure abuse, not “handouts.” If a job pays poorly, it must be because the individuals who take it are “unskilled.”

Welcome to capitalism, business owners: if there is actually a labour shortage, restricted supply + rising demand equals higher prices. This is Adam Smith’s invisible hand at work, and these individuals act as if they are exempt because “it’s my dream.”

I have become a business owner myself. I now lack employees precisely because I am unable to afford them — and I am unwilling to pay someone $7/hour to perform menial tasks. What form of labour, aside from dusting my keyboard every hour, would that even cover?

However, I believe I am unique in comparison to those daring restaurateurs and other small company owners who have become accustomed to inexpensive labour. When workers’ alternatives are limited, it’s easy to blame them for their predicament. It’s a common refrain among survivors of interpersonal abuse: “Why didn’t you just try to heal things?” “It requires two!” “At times, one must make compromises.”

That is, in fact, what the “labour shortage” is: a scarcity of people prepared to believe those lies. Despite its devastation, the pandemic provided a significant advantage to the working class: the understanding that their time and energy were worth more than a few dollars per hour. It provided them with possibilities.

And, indeed, once they saw that extended unemployment benefits exceeded their normal wage, they realised the truth: the reputedly parsimonious government donated more than the local café owner who claimed they were “just like family.”

The deception was uncovered. And many of people took advantage of this opportunity to return to school, find new employment, or even start their own business. They did not abandon the labour; they left the workforces of their abusers.

Therefore, if the “labour scarcity” is real, it indicates that American workers have risen to their feet and are pursuing better possibilities — which is a positive thing.

I began that journey just prior to the pandemic and am grateful that I did. Anyone who want or is required to work deserves a living salary. And we deserve far more than dishonest business owners claiming to be doing us a favour.

It is past time to put an end to the working class’s gaslighting. We are the ones who create value — and we deserve a wage that reflects our skills.

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