It’s well-known that there are currently a lot of jobs going begging, even as employers offer higher pay; see for example this article. Bernie Sanders offers his explanation: he suggests that the problem lies in the ratio of CEO pay growth to worker pay growth since 1978, and “Maybe the problem isn’t a so-called ‘worker shortage.’ Maybe — just maybe — the working class of this country has finally had enough.”
I don’t think Bernie Sanders has a whole lot of experience with this whole ‘working’ thing, so it seems unlikely that he really understands what is going on.
Not very common, I think, for someone to turn down a job because someone at a level stratospherically above him makes a whole lot more money than what he is being offered. Do people really decide against a job at Wal-Mart because Doug McMillon got paid $20.9 million in 2020? Or decide not to go workin’ on the CSX railroad because of James Foote’s compensation package of $15.3 million? While people are very concerned with comparative pay levels, they are usually most concerned about the pay of people doing comparable work or those one or two levels above them (or below them) organizationally.
So what are the factors that are actually keeping so many jobs from attracting workers?
One factor, I think, is simple inertia: people who have been out of the workforce for several months during Covid lockdowns may be delaying going back to work, even though they know they will need to eventually. Another factor is the difficulties with child care / education…even when school are physically open, it’s hard to know how long it will be until they are locked down again, so you can’t count on them for a predictable schedule…and also, there are probably a fair number of people not very enthused about sending their kids back to public school at all, given what they’ve learned about them over the past year.
There are also people who are doing work off-books, and may find that by avoiding FICA and taxes…and any reduction in means-tested benefits…they can do better than they’d do at a full-time job.
Certainly one factor in reluctance to go back to work lies in the unnecessarily unpleasant nature of too many jobs…I’m not talking about jobs that, say, involve working in foundries in high temperatures or working outdoors on commercial fishing boats in winter, but rather retail and customer service jobs that feature extreme micromanagement plus schedules that change from week to week. See Zeynep Ton’s book The Good Jobs Strategy for more on this point. (my review here) And the enforcement of political correctness, also, makes quite a few workplaces unpleasant places to be.
And there is a feeling on the part of many people that they can’t get ahead, because of the importance of credentialism and contacts. I’m sure there are a lot of people in low-level positions in banks who would make excellent branch managers, but are not considered for these jobs because they don’t have college degrees…also, branch managers who are not considered for region executive jobs because they don’t have MBAs, and people who do have MBAs who can’t break into investment banking because their MBA is not from a ‘top’ school. The importance of credentialism varies widely by industry and by specific company within an industry, of course, I suspect many people think it’s more all-encompassing than it actually is, and this is demoralizing to them and creates a ‘why bother?’ mentality.
Finally, there is the problem of skill mismatch: the jobs that are open will often require skills that the potential applicants don’t have, even when unnecessary credential requirements are eliminated. (Although one would think that the trend toward jobs that can be done remotely would mitigate this problem to a considerable extent, by broadening the geography from which people can be drawn)