Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Where Have All The Workers Gone?

Ah, I remember the "Good Old Days." The days prior to July 1st, 2006, when I was semi-self-employed, and had a life outside the four walls of the Hot Flash Café. Those bygone days where I had time for political zeal and media addiction, so diametrically opposite of my life today. Now, I actively ignore the political scene and any and all "news"—unless there's a nuclear attack or some such disaster. It is all just so much noise, and I have all I can handle within my circumscribed little struggling neophyte-entrepreneur world.

Of course, some stuff filters down to me, anyway; right past the fingers in my ears and "La-la-la" chanting from my lips. Current events that should or do effect my daily existence—the health care fiasco, the tanking of the economy, rising joblessness—wave their arms and point at themselves no matter how much I'd like to ignore them.

It's odd, though, how the things that should be negatively affecting the Hot Flash Cafe are not, so much…and the things that should be cutting us a bit of a break are…not so much, either. We've come out of the tanking economy smelling like a rose, at least for now. Though I'm not naïve enough to declare us forever unscathed by the evil economic goings on, I have to say I'm happy enough, and grateful enough, that we are where we are.

But then, there's Unemployment. This whole issue has me utterly flummoxed. Traditionally, high unemployment has been a good thing for businesses like mine, down here in the bottom layers of the economic strata. Even though the pay and the benefits routinely suck in the hospitality industry, when there are no other jobs to be had, we generally get our pick of the litter when it comes to job applicants. In past incarnations of economic hard times, I have assembled some of my best crews out of stacks of applications submitted by over-qualified people who were happy to get any job, and held on to it for dear life once they got one.

Since the first of this year, I have lost two cooks, most of the services of Good and Faithful "D," and had California Chef out sick for two weeks. I've suffered through my worst staffing nightmare ever, when I had to call the husband away from his REAL job so that I could open the doors of the restaurant. Sales have been up and I have been exhausted and desperate for help. What happened to those stacks of over-qualified applicants that the "employers' job market" is supposed to be sending me?

Round One: Place Ad on Craig's list. Decent response, about twelve acceptable applications. Invite twelve applicants for interviews. Eight applicants accept interview. Five show up. Hire one inexperienced Culinary School Student. He works six weeks then quits when his wife lands a better job. Call back another young inexperienced applicant, hire her as a dishwasher. Two days ago, she asked me if it was okay if she used us as a reference for the new job to which she has applied.

Round Two: Upon discovering that relief Breakfast Cook will not be returning after her hand surgery, place an ad for breakfast cook on Craig's list. Five responses, all from obviously unqualified folks responding to ads just to perform the required "job search" to keep their unemployment benefits. No interviews scheduled.

Round Three: Post another ad on Craig's list, this time avoiding any mention of "breakfast cook" (evidently the young folks out there who DO want to work as restaurant cooks are not interested in getting out of bed before noon…) Seven or eight decent responses. Schedule five interviews. Two show up, one after chasing him around and playing "Let's Make a Deal" with the interview time for two weeks. Hire both these folks. One—Ms. California Chef—is a nice girl with loads of credentials who has been with us for one week and I desperately hope I can hang on to. Monty Hall, however, works three days, then calls in the middle of the lunch rush and quits.

In between ads, I interview and hire two "walk-in" applicants. One has turned out to be a godsend and truly helped bail my butt out of the "California Chef Pneumonia" episode. The other quit after one shift (I should have known better than to give her a uniform shirt on her first day…evidently, that is the kiss of death. I'll never see it or her again.)

Final Score: Since January 1, I have hired seven, retained two beyond their sixty day probation, and am clinging to a third for dear life. So what has happened to the "High Unemployment" windfall I'm supposed to be enjoying?

Talk about the Good Old Days! Fifteen or twenty years ago, people still nurtured an element of pride about working to earn a living and not accepting "charity," or entitlements, unless the wolf was literally pounding down their door. They were willing to accept good, honest (if unglamorous) work, without benefits or a long list of perks, if that was what there was. But in today's market, it's all about weighing how hard you might have to work to earn an honest dollar against how much you can get for sitting on your dead ass. What is the motivation for someone who is getting, say, three hundred dollars a week on Unemployment to give that up and work for me for four hundred dollars a week? My personal work ethic and sense of pride would point me toward the work. But younger workers who have grown up with the realities of today's job market just don't look at life the same way I do. It's every man for himself, put out as little effort as you can for the highest possible compensation. And some jobs—like (ew…) food service work—don't even appear on their radar screens. (And you wonder why there are so many illegals working at restaurants? But that's a rant for a different day…)

I find my experience of the system sometimes at odds with my politics. Yes, I believe that the government should be responsible for helping those in need. I believe in programs that many in today's political arena are labeling "socialist" or "entitlements." People who lost their jobs due to the economic breakdown caused by the Administration from Hell should be given a hand. They need a roof over their heads and food on the table. But something is wrong with the system when there are small businesses like mine dying for help, yet everyone—from economic analysts to the guy next door who lost his job at the mill but keeps getting his unemployment benefits extended—looks right over our heads and cries, "Woe is us, there are no jobs!"

Oh, yes. There are jobs. They are just jobs that nobody wants. So those of us small business owners who didn't get killed by the tanking economy just might, in the end, work ourselves to an early grave. Pleasant thought, no?



Michelle said...

Some, like my husband, can't work any temporary job that isn't union when he is laid off.
I waited tables for 16 years, I have no desire to go back, long hours for little pay. Not thanks. I get what you are saying.

Lisa :-] said...

In Oregon, Michelle, wait staff make minimum wage (which is currently $8.40/hr) PLUS tips. My front counter girls average about $12-$13/hr with the tip pool (none of them makes minimum wage.) It's not like in some states, where waiters and waitresses get, like, $2-$4 per hour and literally live off their tips.

My point is that some of these jobs--like this guy's job at the mill--are just GONE. They are not coming back. The mills have closed, not just laid people off due to lack of business. These folks will have either have to relocate or re-train to work in another field.