Economy Labor Robert Reich

Don’t Believe the Corporate “Labor Shortage” Bullsh*t

What's really happening is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage.
Help wanted sign
(Alachua County / Flickr)

By Robert Reich /

For the first time in years, American workers have enough bargaining leverage to demand better working conditions and higher wages—and are refusing to work until they get them.

Here’s where that leverage comes from. After a year and a half of the pandemic, consumers have pent-up demand for all sorts of goods and services. But employers are finding it hard to fill positions to meet that demand. 

The reluctance of people to work doesn’t have anything to do with unemployment benefits. It has everything to do with workers being fed up.

The most recent jobs report showed the number of job openings at a record high. The share of people working or looking for work has dropped to a near-record low 61.6 percent. In August, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, the highest quit rate since 2000.

Republicans have been claiming for months that people aren’t getting back to work because of federal unemployment benefits. Rubbish.

The number of people working or looking for work dropped in September—after the extra benefits ran out on Labor Day.

The reluctance of people to work doesn’t have anything to do with unemployment benefits. It has everything to do with workers being fed up.

Some have retired early. Others have found ways to make ends meet other than a job they hate. Many just don’t want to return to backbreaking or mind-numbing low-wage jobs. 

In the wake of so much hardship, illness and death, peoples’ priorities have shifted.

The media and most economists measure the economy’s success by the number of jobs it creates, while ignoring the quality of those jobs. Just look at the media coverage of the September jobs report: The New York Times emphasized “weak” job growth. For CNN, it was “another disappointment.” 

But when I was Secretary of Labor, I met with working people all over the country who complained that their jobs paid too little and had few benefits, or were unsafe, or required unwieldy hours. Many said their employers treated them badly.

With the pandemic, it’s even worse. That’s why, in addition to all the people who aren’t returning to work, we’re also seeing dozens of organized strikes around the country—10,000 John Deere workers, 1,400 Kellogg workers, over 1,000 Alabama coal miners, and thousands of others.

Not to mention the unauthorized strikes and walkouts since the pandemic began, like the mostly Black sanitation workers in Pittsburgh or the Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island.

In order to lure workers back, employers are now raising wages and offering other incentives. Average earnings rose 19 cents an hour in September and are up more than $1 an hour over the last year. But clearly, that’s not enough to get workers back.

Corporate America is trying to frame this as a “labor shortage.” 

But what’s really happening is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage.

Unless these shortages are rectified, this unofficial general strike will continue. I say it’s about time.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


  1. Love your wonderful articles. Thank you.

    Good heavens!

    There is an enormous shortage of help in virtually
    every small business in the U.S. Help wanted signs
    everywhere you cast your eyes.

    As you probably know, most employment is provided
    by small business, not the S&P 500 companies.

    My postman told me today they can’t find help, with
    beginning pay of $19.02/hr. They have 7 openings in
    my small town. High School diploma required /or Vet.

    What does it take to get a cushy government job with
    great benefits filled? What is a fair starting salary in
    a small town of less than 20,000 people if $40,000
    isn’t enough for a guy without any college?

    Larry Johnson

    1. Mr. Johnson,

      Apply for one of those positions and see what happens. Don’t worry. Judging from conversations I’ve been having, you won’t be called.

      Granted it is anecdotal information, but my junior college students complain constantly to me that they have applied for a dozen jobs and not been called for an interview. Where others have had an on-the-spot interview, they have not been called to work. I have allowed some to list me as a reference. I have not been contacted by a prospective employer of one of my current or former students in months.

      Those that have jobs complain about how short-handed their workplace is. And they all say that their workplaces have some version of “hiring now” advert in place.

      In both cases we are talking mostly about service sector, but also some manufacturing and warehouse jobs in upstate NY.

      I think that maybe something else is going on.

  2. Then there’s the estimated 10 million jobless, many with little or no incomes, and the bourgeoisie have no grasp of why they would be willing to work for a bag of groceries. They’re desperate for any job at any wage.

  3. Professor Reich writes:

    “The reluctance of people to work doesn’t have anything to do with unemployment benefits. It has everything to do with workers being fed up”.

    Do people on this twisted irrational ‘woke left’, being manipulated as you are by people like this Reich character, (a lackey errand-boy for the Ruling Elites over his ENTIRE career, who served as Labor Czar in the Republican (de facto) Clinton Regime), really believe this kind of stinky horse poopy?

    It’s a shame because this article contains a VERY large measure of truth. That’s what ‘they’ do. That’s how cunning ‘they’ are. Sure, they lie whenever they have to, but the best ‘technique’ is to twist the truth, not lie. They twist the truth, they give it a ‘slant’ to manipulate people’s thinking ‘in a specific direction’, as part of a much broader over-arching intelligence ‘psy-ops’ operation.

    This is EXACTLY what ‘they’ do, all over they planet. Nobody here ever heard of the NED? What’s their yearly budget? [Psst… Don’t tell anyone…. It’s a CIA ‘front’, a means of backdoor financing. ]

    This is where The Enemy is spending our tax dollars. This is what ‘they’ do. They ‘hire’ people to do what those people do. Chomsky covered this (like thick molasses) in ‘Manufacturing Consent’. What part did folks not understand?

    You think they don’t know how to ‘hire’ people who “gots their minds right”? Believe me, folks, ‘they’ are VERY highly paid professionals, ‘they’ are VERY good at what ‘they’ do, and ‘they DON’T sit idle when there’s a “failure to communicate” to address.

    ‘Their’ highly paid lackeys lap up the chow, and are promoted up the chain. Reich is a wealthy man, (relatively speaking), and hardly lifts a finger for what ‘they’ keep putting in his checking account, (by digital deposit), every dang month. How many pensions is he raking in while enjoying his cherry-plumb Ivory Tower Aerie Emeritus?

    There is much truth in Professor Reich’s essay. Indeed, “the natives are restless”, as the saying goes. Uh-oh… better watch out… the PC Cancel Culture Police might see this… Try to understand that I am informing myself by inhabiting my Enemy’s point of view. (Any you folks heard of a fella name ‘a Sun Tzu?)

    Indeed the peons, the wage slaves, are restless. How do we think the Enemy will respond? Way too many people ’round these parts playing checkers. The ‘game’ here is 3d chess, boys and girls.

    In chess, or war, or politics, (remember ole von Clausewitz?… Yea.. I ‘read’ him too… these kind of folks tend to be really blabbery. Caesar has been my own best mentor), victory will go to the general who can ‘think ahead’ of her or his enemy. (Daenarys was by FAR the smartest of them all. It was a pretty trite ‘schlocky’ ending, having her fall prey to power itself. It did not ‘fit’ the character they had built, though it served the ‘Magna Charta’ ending).

    Sure.., sure… people don’t want to get up an go back to work. You soft-clothes folks don’t understand that it’s a DRAG (as we used to say) to spend most of your life doing degrading work that you HATE, (effing HATE!) for pay so low you can’t pay your rent. But doubling up with the in-laws, in your husband’s sister’s top floor of a Boston 3-decker, does ‘get old’. Ya know?

    Two grown men, (waking up with a certain ‘swelling’ each day), two young women, dealing with human females’ hormonal cycles, (from seductive, when ovulating, to ‘on the rag’), and seven children, three under two years old, in 1200 square feet? Sheets hung up for ‘privacy’? (You know what her silhouette looks like when backlit through a sheet?)

    Sure… There is AMPLE truth is what Dr. Reich is saying. There IS a de facto ‘general strike’ actually IN PROGRESS!!! (In effing PROGRESS, fer crissakes!).

    Great News, right?… Ahhh…. But there’s always a catch… Right?… The Woke Left is FAR too busy “fighting racism” to actually fight our Enemy. (heh-heh-heh, sez de enemy, while twisting his moustache). Gee… It’s almost like ‘someone’ planned it to ‘go down’ like this. Eh??

    The correct ‘move’ now would be a General Debt Strike, NOT a work strike.

    These people are going to HAVE to go back to work to survive. This Reich clown wants us to believe that the fact that unemployment has run out will have no effect on events? How can folks be so confused that this degree of horse poopy is being published on the Old Eagle’s web site? Are folks so ‘out there’ in ‘wokeland’ that you actually believe this?

    When your stomach growls in increasing anger, and your babies’ cries start to change from pathetic pleading to angry demand, and you reach in your pocket and find 16 cents, (a thin dime, a plug nickel, and a copper penny), and you know all your in-laws are just as ‘tapped out’ as you are, believe me, you’re ‘a gonna go wash dishes for $7.50 per, to get milk for the baby.

    C,mon, ole Ramparts Bob. Getcher head back in the game, (fer crissakes).

    30 million people declare a General Moratorium on ALL Debt. NOT just rent. Every credit card is already maxed. That balance is NEVER going to be paid. Teach people how to most effectively barricade their doors. Sit down… Force them to break down the door… Make them use physical force to put families on the street.

    Oh… Wait… I forgot for a second there… We’re FAR too busy “fighting racism” to actually defeat our Enemy.

    (C’mon, Old Bob. Fer Crissakes!, man. I REMEMBER who you could soar. You once inspired the poopy outta a young Kansas cowpoke).

  4. It sounds I hope like the beginning stages of the end of rapacious capitalism and hopefully the end of exploitation of the entire working class.All of these strikes have a root cause.profits. You can make a case that billions of dollars and human welfare have been stolen from the great mass of workers all over the world.Arise ye prisoners of starvation.I read that somewhere.It remains to see seen how the Masters of Mankind will respond to a powerfall,unified organized mass movement all over the world.I have a pretty good guess. I think that much blood will be spilled and many people killed

  5. Thank you Mr. Reich for telling it exactly like it is. You are and have always been a hero to me.
    What a surprise that workers are demanding to be paid what they’re worth! Shocking that many don’t want to urinate in trash cans for lack of a proper bathroom break.
    Appalling that restaurant workers desire higher pay just to compensate for the verbal abuse alone that ignorant customers dish out.
    Elitist prigs and union bashers have been dictating wages for workers for far too long. Union representation in the 1960’s was at around 36%, whereby
    now it hovers at 6%. The entire
    world revolves around Karma which is akin to the third law of physics. Now we’re seeing it in play! !!!

  6. Predictably, not a word from the Turd Reich about the pseudo-pandemic’s controlled demolition of national economies and deliberate immiseration of the working class, surpassing that of the Great Depression. And sure enough, following standardized scripts now deployed across the fake left, neither a word about the widespread resistance among workers to non-‘vaccine’ mandates from medical tyrants in government and business. The lies about what’s going down across the world are unprecedented. Welcome to the New (b)Normal.

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