Regardless of your preferred news source, you’ve likely seen recent stories about the nationwide worker shortage the service industry is facing. You’ve probably also heard that one of the reasons for this dearth of employees is because the current unemployment benefits are just too gosh darn generous. While the myopic person’s spin on the story is that Americans are lazy and don’t want to work, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah understands that the reality is much different.
On Tuesday, Noah got right to the point when he said that “those unemployment checks are not subsidizing laziness. They’re giving workers the rare opportunity to look for a job that’s more than just a way to survive until their next paycheck.”
Here’s the deal: While the federal minimum wage is a laughable $7.25 per hour, the minimum wage for tipped employees is just a fraction of that—$2.13 per hour. So when you hear a waiter or bartender talk about “relying on tips,” they mean it. But even beyond that paltry hourly wage, many hospitality workers don’t receive the bare minimum of benefits one would expect from a job. Forget health insurance or retirement planning—we’re talking about something as simple as paid sick or vacation days.
Restaurant work can be a thankless job, and the past year has given those workers the chance to look for employment in other sectors (the growing cannabis industry is reportedly seeing an influx of former restaurant employees join their ranks), where they have the opportunity to earn a genuine living that doesn’t have them panicking from check-to-check. As Noah said:
“It makes complete sense that restaurant workers are looking for better jobs, right? Because these are tough jobs. They’re on their feet all day; they take care of everyone; they pretend not to hear when you guys are breaking up at the table. And after all of that, they have to rely on tips. I mean, you know a job isn’t paying enough when every meal ends with a mini-GoFundMe. And aside from giving workers the opportunity to look for jobs that they can actually live on, these unemployment benefits are also giving them leverage to use against their former employers. And it seems like it might actually be working.”
Some restaurant chains, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Chipotle, have all reportedly increased their pay rates over the past several months. Employers are also adding in additional benefits, including paid family leave, stock options, 401k matching, and mental health care, in order to entice people back to their jobs.
“The point is, many restaurants are getting workers back by raising wages and offering benefits,” Noah said. “So I guess it turns out when they were saying ‘Nobody wants to work,’ what they actually meant was, ‘Nobody wants to work for the starvation wages that we were willing to pay them.’ And apparently, they were able to afford this the whole time. It just took some pressure from the workers to force their hand.”
Well, that and a pandemic that has so far killed more than 3.4 million people worldwide—and counting.