By Gabriela Godinez Feregrino
In our American society today we often hear praise surrounding the idea of working hard, so much so that we’re often teased about it internationally. The “American Dream” is known around the world as picking yourself up by your bootstraps and making the most out of your situation to eventually rise into economic comfort and perhaps even the possibility of a life of luxury. This was rarely seen as a true possibility. Many people in our country live paycheck to paycheck and even with a job many fall into homelessness every year. After the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic the cracks in our society were only made larger. While millions of jobs were lost during the pandemic, lead economist at Oxford Economics Nancy Vanden Houten told Insider that “there’s a risk that labor force participation won’t return to what it was prior to the pandemic. We might still experience shortages of workers.”
On Saturday, May 22nd Kings Island had to close 30 minutes early because of several fights that broke out inside the park and at the parking lot. Out of this debacle came the comments from patrons expressed to the Cincinnati Enquirer that the park felt understaffed. However, a spokesperson from Kings Island told the Enquirer that they were well staffed for weekends but would like to hire more staff before opening for weekdays. Staff shortages could be for many reasons, but I’m sure it doesn’t help that when confronted with a global crisis most Americans were left to fend for themselves and they realized that the economic powers at be see the labor force not only as replaceable, but as completely disposable.
Currently, we are seeing an increased shortage of employees, not because people don’t want to return to work, but rather because people don’t want to return to jobs where the work does not match the pay. Jobs that were lost to the pandemic were exchanged for an unemployment check that provided a more livable wage. It simply does not make sense for people to return to such emotionally taxing positions when they could hold off for a better job that provides higher pay and hopefully better conditions. Some corporations like Cosco and Target have already raised their minimum wage to entice more applicants.
However, wouldn’t be seeing this problem if all corporations paid their employees a livable wage and waiters across the board didn’t have to rely on tips. A woman previously employed as a waitress, who is currently enrolled at University of Cincinnati, told Streetvibes that working as a waitress affected her mental health on a daily basis. Even still, because of her work experience, she would likely return to waitressing should the circumstances call for it and therefore asked Streetvibes to change her name. Kathy, as we will call her, shared some of her stress surrounding waitressing.
“There was this one time where it was really busy and around the holidays, we had multiple huge parties where only half had reservations, and one man became very belligerent with me and made a huge scene, said I was terrible at my job- and even though it was clear this man was intoxicated and being rude, my manager made me and my peers feel like we were in the wrong. But I had to work my hardest because I needed to live off of tips. Any mistakes that were made in orders, that was out of my control, it would come out of my tips. It didn’t matter what I did, I was always in the wrong. It really messed with my mental health. I felt like I had no voice and no power.” Kathy makes it clear that the customers aren’t always the same, but because of the sexism already in the food industry it “makes it easy for sexist patrons to make the environment stressful and at times unsafe.”
She also shared that the tipping system was often held over the waitresses’ heads. “People would do that, they would hold it over you. If the kitchen makes mistakes, the servers would get the anger and lose the tip .” Kathy expressed that if people got paid a livable wage and didn’t have to rely on tips, “this type of job would be worth it,” but as it stands that isn’t the case. That stress goes home with the worker. “I used to have anxiety dreams all the time! I would be anxious at work, before work, and stressed walking home wondering if the tips I made will even cover my rent.” Many states have responded to this lack of service industry workers by proposing to cut unemployment payments rather than addressing the larger problem of livable wage. These states hope that by removing unemployment checks, people will be forced back into stressful work environments at a wage that isn’t reasonable for the working conditions that come with this line of work. We have to remember, however, that while this situation is as a result of the pandemic, the circumstances that lead to this moment were created long before and were preventable.