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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Labor

Protestors demand living wage.

As a writer, I get stuck every so often straining for the right words to tell my story or otherwise make the kind of progress I want on the piece I'm writing. Over the years, though, I've learned when to quit tying myself into mental knots over sentence construction and instead step back and rethink where my story is going.

This process is essentially what millions of American working families are going through this year as record numbers of them are shocking bosses, politicians and economists by stepping back and declaring: "We quit!" Most of the quits are tied to very real abuses that have become ingrained in our workplaces over the past couple of decades — poverty paychecks, no health care, unpredictable schedules, no child care, understaffing, forced overtime, unsafe jobs, sexist and racist managers, tolerance of aggressively rude customers and so awful much more.

Meanwhile, corporate bosses across America have been sputtering in outrage at workers this summer, spewing expletives about the fact that while the U.S. economy has been coming back ... workers (i.e., you) haven't!

"Labor shortage," they squeal, lazily accusing the workforce of mass laziness. Apparently, they charge insultingly that millions of workers got used to laying around during the pandemic shutdown, for there is now an abundance of jobs open for everything from restaurant work to nursing to construction work. So, the bosses and their political dogs bark that you people need to get back in the old harness and start pulling again.

Adding a nasty bite to their bark, several GOP governors cut off unemployment benefits to people, hoping to force them to work. Other businesses have proffered signing bonuses, free dinner coupons and other lures, while such notoriously mingy outfits as McDonald's and Walmart have even upped their wage scales in an effort to draw workers.

Yet ... no go. In fact, to the astonishment of the economic elite, the employment flow this year is going the other way! Record numbers of current workers in all sorts of jobs in every section of the country are voluntarily walking away. There's even an official economic measurement of this phenomenon called the "quits rate," and it is surging beyond anything our economy has experienced in modern memory — in April, 4 million workers quit; in May, another 3.6 million left, in June, 3.9 million said "Adios!" At a time when conventional economic wisdom dictates that, after a devastating 18-month downturn, people would be clinging to any paycheck they can get! The "quits" are so unexpected and so widespread that pundits have started dubbing this year "The Great Resignation."

What's wrong with people, why are such staggering numbers of Americans failing to do their jobs? But wait — maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe the corporate system's "jobs" are failing the people. Consider this: The most common comment by those who're walking out is, "I hate my job."

Specific grievances abound, but at the core of each is a deep, inherently destructive executive-suite malignancy: disrespect. The corporate system has cheapened employees from valuable human assets worthy of being nurtured and advanced to a bookkeeping expense that must be steadily eliminated. It's not just about paychecks, it's about feeling valued, feeling that the hierarchy gives a damn about the people doing the work.

Yet, corporate America is going out of its way to show that it doesn't care — and, of course, workers notice. So, unionization is booming, millions who were laid off by the pandemic are refusing to rush back to the same old grind, and now millions who have jobs are quitting. This is much more than an unusual unemployment stat — it's a sea change in people's attitude about work itself ... and life.

People are rethinking where their story is going and how they can take it in a better direction. Yes, nearly everyone will eventually return to work, but workers themselves have begun redefining the job and rebalancing it with life.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com

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President Joe Biden tours the IBEW/NECA Electrical Training Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, on July 21, 2021.

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/AFP/TNS

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