The mentality of an American worker has drastically shifted in the past decade. The “go-getter” wave of baby boomers is now being replaced by a more “do only what you have to” mentality of millennials. More and more people are fighting for an increase in their wages, sometimes even resolving in massive strikes. But what prompted this change? Is it a change for the worse, or better? Are the new workers really just lazy, or is there something more?
Those are the questions we will answer in this article.
Why are workers wages not enough?
The main reason for all of these arguments is fairly simple – workers don’t think they get paid enough. They are also no longer satisfied with working for god-knows how long with no growth potential. This dissatisfaction in the modern workforce is caused by 2 main factors:
1. Rising prices
I think it’s obvious to all of us why prices for everything have risen. Inflation can be harsh, but the worst thing is that it’s not harsh equally. Some aspects, like groceries, have been somewhat in-line with inflation. Other aspects however, can be a different story. The worst offender in this is the housing market.
Because our planet only has so much space we can use, the supply of it is, of course, limited. But even then, the housing prices have more than doubled in some regions of the USA. Even the smallest, “compact” houses can sometimes cost you more that a year’s worth of wages.And this isn’t only a problem for the USA, but for Canada as well.
There is now a somewhat jokey trend going around, comparing the prices of Canadian houses to European castles. To put it simply, if you want to buy a house as a Canadian, it’s cheaper to just move to Europe.
2. Declining wages
The rise of prices would be fine, if worker wages managed to match them. The sad thing is, they aren’t. While there has been almost a 150% growth in prices, the average wage increased only by about 40-50%. You also have to take into account the fact that, in some states, the minimum wage has stayed the same for the past decade. While the prices of everything increased, the amount you could pay with stayed the same.
Another big thing, that contributed to this whole wage debate, was the great depression. That might sound weird at first, since the great depression happened almost a century ago. But it’s actually because of that fact that the great depression became such a big topic.
Let’s talk numbers. During the great depression, the average house price was about 250% of annual income, while rent was about 20%. Today, the price of an average house is about 600% of annual income, and rent is about 30%. This means that, technically, Americans of today have it worse than those living in the great depression, the worst financial crisis in the history of USA. This didn’t go over well with workers when it was discovered.
What also didn’t help was that, while workers themselves were getting less and less, their bosses and CEOs were getting more and more. While before, a CEO would take about 10 times the average wage of the workers about him, today, that number skyrocketed to about 300 times. This means that, if an employee wanted to make as much as a CEO makes in one day, they would have to work for almost a year.
How are workers fighting against bad wages?
When people are unhappy in their situation, they will usually try to change something about it. In the same manner, when workers thing their wages are low, they change their working method. Either they work less, or ask for more. Here are just some ways that workers change their work/wage ratio.
“Quiet quitting” is a term that first really begun to spread around the beginning of 2023. Although the name might suggest otherwise, quiet quitting has nothing to do with actual resignation from your work. When you quiet quit, it simply means that you refuse to overwork yourself and do only the things you have to to get paid. You simply start when you are supposed to, and clock out when your shift ends. While it may sound like just the normal work day, that isn’t exactly right.
A “quiet quitter” doesn’t do unpaid overtime. They never do work of someone else. And they don’t answer work-related messages outside their work-hours. If they are offered a position, which would just add to their responsibilities, without increasing their work compensation, they usually refuse.
Another fairly recently coined term. But instead of reducing the amount of work you do, rage applying is more about replacing your work altogether. Rage applying describes the point, when a worker feels under-appreciated in their workplace. Because of that, they seek other forms of employment, even when they are already employed.
Rage applying is usually the last resort, when a worker feels like the only thing left to do is to quit. But instead of just putting in their 2 week notice (which they legally don’t have to do), they find a replacement before even talking about leaving. This way, they can usually offer their boss a last offer in the style of “If you don’t give me a raise, then i quit”.
But be careful with rage applying. Sometimes, especially if you rush the applying process, it can lead to you ending in an even worse position than you were before. If you decide you really want to rage apply, think carefully about where you would like to go next, because your boss probably won’t hire you back.
Another thing workers can do to increase their wages is to unionize. A union is basically a large number of workers, which work together on demands to their boss. A single worker threatening to quit isn’t a big deal to most bosses, but when a half of your workforce does the same, you sure will listen.
Even though unions are legal and protected under many American laws, it’s sadly true that most big-time workplaces not only don’t respect unions, but outright punish workers which try to unionize. Because of that, I advise you to be careful when you decide to start a union.
This, however, doesn’t at all mean that unions don’t work. Best demonstrated by the fairly recent UPS strike, which took place when a union of 340,000 UPS workers decided to work together. After a bit of legal back and forth with the higher-ups, they managed to negotiate not only better wages, but also better treatment.
When none of the above things work, it’s time for the last resort option – a strike. Strikes are very simple in process. A certain group of workers simply decide to not work, until their demands are met. Strikes can happen for a plethora of reasons, but most of the time, it boils down to 2 aspects: workers rights and workers wages. We already talked about a strike in the above point, but let’s look at some other examples.
In May of this year, the Writers Guild of America went on a massive strike, which is still happening to this day. The main point of this strike is to push back against the over-usage of AI in the movie-making industry, especially in writing. Few months later, the WGA was also joined by the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), who basically advocate for the same thing – for even the small actors to be paid enough to make a living.