Workers finally have leverage, and they're using it to demand better work-life balance

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
Businesses are facing a worker shortage, and many workers are using that shortage to demand higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions.
  • Pay increased 1.5% in the third quarter, the Labor Department said Friday.
  • Workers who switch jobs are seeing some of the sharpest income gains in decades.
  • Lower-income workers at restaurants, bars and retail stores are seeing some of the top pay gains.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have left us with one true positive.

It has given us all a chance to reexamine what is really important in our lives.

Many of us have come to realize that work, while meaningful, is not the No. 1 priority in our day-to-day existence. For those folks, family ties, significant relationships and personal happiness — along with the time to enjoy those precious commodities — all rank higher than our jobs.

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Many in the middle- and lower-income classes in our nation, after decades of silently accepting stagnant paychecks, long hours and oppressive working environments, have decided such conditions are simply no longer acceptable.  

They fought back with the only weapon at their disposal — their resignations.

Thus, the Great Resignation began.

Employees gain leverage: In the process, those middle- and lower-income workers have discovered they now actually have some leverage when it comes to their employment.

For years, the employers have enjoyed a strong upper hand when it came to their employees. Now, those tables have turned, and it’s the employees who can dictate terms, and that’s what they’ve started to do.

The result, not surprisingly, are increased wages, better benefits and more accommodating bosses.

Some striking statistics: According to a recent Associated Press story, wages and salaries jumped in the three months ending in September by the most on records that date back 20 years. Companies are being forced to offer higher pay to fill a near-record number of available jobs.

Pay increased 1.5% in the third quarter, the Labor Department said Friday. That’s up sharply from 0.9% in the previous quarter. The value of benefits rose 0.9% in the July-September quarter, more than double the preceding three months.

Yes, higher inflation is eating away at some of the wage increases, but overall pay is keeping ahead of rising prices. The 1.5% increase in wages and salaries in the third quarter is ahead of the 1.2% increase in inflation during that period, economists said.

Workers who switch jobs are seeing some of the sharpest income gains in decades. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, in September job-switchers saw their pay jump 5.4% compared with a year earlier. That’s up from just 3.4% in May and the biggest increase in nearly 20 years. For those who stayed in their jobs, pay rose 3.5%.

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Lower-income workers at restaurants, bars and retail stores are seeing some of the largest income gains, but the wage increases are spreading. According to Oxford Economics, the proportion of jobs receiving a monthly pay rise of 0.5% for six months has jumped to 40%, from about 9% before the pandemic.

Supply and demand: That is good news for the middle- and lower-income workers, who have been taking it on the chin for five decades as income inequality between the haves and the have-nots has soared.

Now, finally, a much-needed readjustment in the employer-employee relationship seems to be occurring. The employers surely don’t like it much, but they’re going to have to find a way to live with it. That’s the way the capitalist system works, and it's a system that has made many of them enormously rich. It’s all about supply and demand, and right now workers are in high demand.

That gives them the leverage to command better wages, better benefits and better working conditions.

Even more, it gives them the chance to finally achieve a better work-life balance.