The job market has never been so strange. Employment rates in Missouri are hard to understand, and everyone asks the same question. Where are all the Missouri workers?
Covid-19 collectively changed a whole country, and we are still knee-deep in the aftermath of the decision to shut down the U.S. While opinions vary on this decision, it's hard to say what would have happened had we left the country open and let the disease do what it does. Hindsight is 20/20; however, it's unclear if this shift of the country will be good or bad for Missourians. One thing is for sure: things are very different than before Covid-19 paralyzed the U.S.
People were shocked when schools closed indefinitely, companies closed, and curfews ensued throughout the nation. People were working and adhering to schedules of 40-plus hours a week and extracurricular activities that kept families running with little to no downtime.
Parents felt they were parenting well because the kids were involved in many after-school programs, so it made up for their lost time with each other. Families packed trips, theme parks, and family activities into two-day weekends. They had little to no time to relax before returning to work again.
Many gave little thought to the true implications of heavy workloads and hectic schedules because bills must be paid monthly.
Then Covid-19 hit, and the whole world paused. It's almost like divine intervention caused everyone to reassess their lives and self-worth. One of the most significant moments of realization many people experienced was that they could work from home.
In the past, working from home was something practiced mostly by subcontractors, and it was rarely an option. The way business was conducted changed and changed quickly. Almost overnight, business owners had to adapt and find a way to continue to operate with the "shelter in place" ordinances the government was enforcing.
Zoom became a standard way to conduct business, and in-person work and meetings became obsolete. Business owners who transitioned to this new way probably sighed in relief because they dodged the bullet. When the country reopened, businesses faced another major issue. What happened after Covid-19 no one could have predicted, and it all happened so fast that the direction of the shift in mindset for employees and the implications of such are still unclear.
When Covid-19 hit, suddenly, people who never spent time together due to busy schedules from school and work obligations had nothing but quality time with loved ones. People were locked in their homes with their children and paralyzed in fear of the virus.
The news was terrifying; everyone knew someone who had died from the disease. When the country opened back up, a new way of thinking evolved. The economy changed. Supply chain issues developed due to shutdowns worldwide, regulations on vaccines, and a lack of workers while touching almost all industries.
People were scared to return to work because they would endanger their high-risk loved ones. Businesses lost many employees, or employees returned to find they no longer had a job because the business closed.
Childcare was affected. Affordable and quality childcare became even harder to find, and mothers whose jobs closed during the pandemic decided not to go back to work but instead to take care of their children or older relatives.
Rental prices skyrocketed with historical numbers. Driving this price increase were large investment companies. They are accused of creating a supply and demand monopoly, driving up rental costs, and putting a considerable strain on low-income families. With no regulations regarding these purchases, renters are at the mercy of investment companies. They controlled the price of rent in many areas by buying out many properties and leaving none for private homeowners to purchase.
Sherrod Brown, the chair of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, told a Senate committee at a hearing in August that the rental crisis outlook is grim.
"Families are being priced out of buying homes, and rising rents mean that tenants are "just one illness or job loss or car repair away from eviction. More and more, investors are buying up single-family homes — homes that first-time homebuyers usually buy — and renting them out at sky-high rates. Twenty-eight percent of homes sold at the beginning of this year went to investors." -- Sherrod Brown, chair of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee
In addition to housing, vehicle prices also rose due to the pandemic. Some rising an unbelievable 40%. This supply and demand issue is due to a need for more employees and problems obtaining a much-needed computer chip made primarily in Ukraine. Ukraine has been in an all-out war with Russia, and the computer chip supply from Ukraine has been halted indefinitely. This perfect storm created unaffordable transportation and enormous problems for Americans.
Food prices have risen 10.6% in the last year, and experts claim that number will not go down anytime soon.
Associate professor David Ortega at Michigan State University explains why food prices are so high,
"Supply chain disruptions, the conflict in Ukraine, climate change, the deadliest bird flu in U.S. history, transportation costs, and increased consumer spending on food are all drivers of higher food prices." --David Ortega, Associate professor at Michigan State University.
Inflation is affecting everything consumers buy and every industry. Small businesses are struggling, and Missouri employees seem to be in the midst of an "awakening."
People are looking at stagnant wages that don't come close to covering the amount of money they need to break even every month. Many think, what's the point in working if I still can't afford my bills? This has caused people to explore other employment options that are more realistic and indicative of survival.
As reality started revealing the post covid country, people were forced to rethink their life plans and the direction of their futures. Making decisions based on the ability to support their families and the logistics of how their current employer fills this need, many decided not to return to work but to instead look for a different job.
Some people realized they were happier working from home and found an "at-home niche" that paid the bills and was more desirable because it provided more time with family.
Others decided they were giving all of their hearts and souls to jobs that closed their doors during the pandemic and did not give a second thought to how their employees would survive.
For decades employers have pushed employees to work longer hours and take on more work with the promise of stability and under the guise that they were "family."
Tiny twenty-five cent raises passed out once a year were supposed to suffice. Being paid a salary was sort of a status symbol and a goal. In reality, it is a way for employers to get more hours for less money without paying overtime.
Dodging overtime laws, management would often make less than employees when the hours worked were computed. Although the promise of the benefit of working fewer hours and making the same amount was a huge selling point for employers, rarely was that the case with salary.
It appears everyone was going, going, going, and Covid-19 was the brick wall that stopped everyone in their tracks.
When people started to wake up from the "life coma" they were in, many saw a life they were programmed to accept. They stretched their arms, rubbed their eyes, peered around, and became aware that they were dictated by a job that let them down when they were most vulnerable, and at the end of the day, everyone is replaceable.
After hours, dedication, and sacrifice, and at one of the scariest times in the history of this country, some companies turned their backs on their employees. Many people were unhappy with their pay but felt forced to overachieve to keep their jobs while seeing no way out. It was accepted that this is life and it would never change. The pandemic said, not true.
Employees realized their employers were not their first priority and that this spot was reserved for family. At the same time, people also recognized the same held true for the employer. Employees were not the first priority of the company.
This moment molded where the job market is today. It is different. Employers forced to reassess the monetary value of dedication, loyalty, and drive are beginning to realize they must change how they pay and treat people if they want to continue to operate.
Employees are beginning to recognize that nothing can replace time with family and that their monetary worth is much more than they realized.
The silver lining to the pandemic is that it has created an environment enabling people to step outside of their comfort zones created by fear. It has strengthened many people to achieve things they only dreamed about.
It is all quite remarkable. In one swoop, the pandemic changed everything and everyone. Some things for the better. Some things, not so much. But as a whole, our futures were changed forever.
Did the pandemic change your situation at work for the better or worse or not at all?
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