If that were the whole story, then the 26 states that cut off unemployment benefits early would have seen a big uptick in job growth. But they haven’t.
Still, economists see a modest effect, which makes intuitive sense. Having an extra $300 a week (since December) allowed some people to decline wages or work conditions that they otherwise might have been forced to accept.
To me, that’s a good thing. A worker’s slightly increased power to say “no, thank you” forced employers to try harder. In the past year, wages have risen at a faster rate than they have in a decade. And the tight labor market has given some workers the courage to insist that they be treated with respect in the jobs they do take.
Such as the employees of a Burger King in Lincoln, Neb., who resigned en masse after posting a sign that read, “We All Quit! Sorry for the Inconvenience.” Or the employees of a Dollar General in Eliot, Maine, who explained their walkout with signs on the door: “If you don’t pay people enough to live their lives, why should they slave away for you?”
Or consider the note on a Chipotle: “Want to know why we’re closed? . . . We are overworked, understaffed, underpaid, and underappreciated.”
These signs make great Instagram posts; they also reflect reality: The quit rate for hotel and restaurant workers is at an all-time high.
How much should work cost your home life, your health, your family? How much should it cost your dignity?
Should your job require you to sit through pro forma news conferences you know will throw you off your game? One of the world’s top tennis players, prioritizing her mental health over the French Open, suggests that it should not.
Should your job require you to risk injury against your better judgment? The world’s greatest gymnast, declining to compete in some Olympic events, suggests that it should not.
Should your job require you to endure the sexual innuendo, humiliation and handsiness of a powerful boss? The eleven women who accused then-New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of harassment suggest that it should not.
Then there was the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who, after protests forced a university to offer her tenure along with a prestigious post, declined to work for an institution from whom professional courtesy had to be wrung.
We still have a long way to go as a society before we are entirely comfortable with the idea of putting one’s well-being before one’s work. Some of Cuomo’s accusers were dismissed as hypersensitive; Naomi Osaka was called a “diva”; Simone Biles was declared to be “selfish.” Nikole Hannah-Jones said even people on her side in her tenure fight with the University of North Carolina told her that walking away would give her opponents a victory.
But these women stood their ground and public opinion mostly stood with them. Even professions with a proud tradition of toxic work environments are beginning to change. In April, Broadway producer Scott Rudin “made the decision to step back” from his productions because of allegations that he flew into rages and bullied, humiliated and intimidated his employees.
Why now? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the push for better treatment at many theaters around the country — and in government, academia and sports — intersected with the #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter movements. Obviously, both of those movements have major implications for law and public policy. But they also pose the simple, radical question of what people should have to put up with — and what they should not.
Add to that recalibration the virus-born realization that going to work can be literally life-threatening, and you begin to see why more workers across the economic spectrum are standing up for themselves.
“We became essential,” said one former Burger King employee. “And then we weren’t treated essential by upper management.”
Americans have always valued work. After the social, political and economic cataclysms of the past year and a half, we may be starting to value workers.