Pandemic has completely changed the US job market

As of: 12/30/2021 7:49 a.m.

The pandemic has completely changed the US labor market: many are no longer willing to accept low wages and poor working conditions. The result: a wave of strikes and layoffs.

By Julia Kastein, ARD Studio Washington

In November in front of Kellogg’s plant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania: a driver honks his horn in solidarity. Dave Elliott waves and adjusts the strike sign that he has strapped to his chest: “We fight for the future” is written on it. The 58-year-old and his 1,400 colleagues in four plants have been on strike since the beginning of October.

Julia Kastein
ARD-Studio Washington

It’s about the fundamentals: equal pay for equal work instead of a two-class society. “It’s not fair, it’s immoral, it’s just not right,” says Dave. What he means: Kellogg’s employees who have only worked for the long-established company since 2015 earn less and have poorer social benefits.

“Striketober” in autumn

Kellogg’s is one of 170+ companies in the United States on strike in 2021. Since this year, the pangs have been documented in the strike counter at Cornell University. Ian Greer is a labor market researcher there. “The unemployment figures are low. And that means that it is harder for employers to replace the strikers,” he says in the video interview. “That’s why the workers have a little more structural power than usual.”

The fall wave of strikes, dubbed “Striketober”, is just one of the phenomena of the pandemic world of work. “The Great Resignation” is the other phenomenon of this time: Four million employees have left the job market – many because they could no longer. Rachel Ellsworth, for example: The Florida nurse gave up her job completely after twelve years, as did nearly half a million nurses during the pandemic. Her tank was just completely empty, she says on a US talk show. She would have left all her energy at work and had nothing left for her three children. Although they would actually have needed more during this time.

Many become self-employed

Rachel now lives in the Kentucky countryside with her family. Many former employees, on the other hand, took the opportunity and started their own business. Nick Fullmer from Alabama lost his job as a janitor at the start of the pandemic and started a carpet cleaning company. It was simply clear to him: “If I want a job, I have to create it myself,” he says on the CBS broadcaster.

The number of available workers is just under 62 percent of the population. The proportion is as low as it was last in the 1970s. This is a big problem for many companies. You just can’t find people.

Companies are desperately looking for personnel

At a job fair in New Jersey in the fall, Todd Friedman and Keith Wood also set up a booth for their moving company. They need everything: “Drivers, porters, helpers – just people for hard work,” says Todd. And Keith adds: “We’ve had to turn down orders. We specialize in household moves. Now, with this labor shortage, it’s really difficult.”

The many vacancies add to the other problem facing the US economy: high inflation. “Just paying more won’t be enough,” says John Evans, head of at Yahoo Finance. According to surveys, it is much more important for many employees to be able to work from home. Or to achieve a better work-life balance.

At Kellogg’s, the 1,400 employees flexed their muscles with great success. Shortly before Christmas, they ended one of the longest strikes of the year: with more money and better services. Because after all, local union leader Kerry Williams said shortly before the deal was reached, “There are many other jobs out there that they can get.”

To strike or to quit? The new power of the US workers

Julia Kastein, ARD Washington, December 22nd, 2021 9:17 am

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