The Wage Slave Revolution
Updated: Mar 13
What Am I Working For?
Years back, while working for a Fortune 500 insurance company, someone that I considered a mentor unexpectedly gave notice to the company that he was leaving. He had been with the company for nearly a decade and was considered a superstar by his managerial peers, and the people that worked under him and around him. He started his insurance career at a time when the company valued mobility over mastery, so in a short amount of time he was able to gain experience in all levels of insurance claims and make the transition into management.
What shocked many people at the time of the resignation is that it occurred just a few weeks after getting another promotion. After beating out dozens of other candidates for a highly coveted position, he decided he had to leave. After days of speculation, I finally got to see him and ask him why. Why would he leave just weeks into getting this position that so many others wanted? He explained to me that the numbers didn’t add up, that in his new role, he still couldn’t afford to own a home in or around where we worked (Long Island, New York), and that it would take several more promotions to have real financial stability.
Prior to getting the promotion, my friend/mentor had recently gotten married, and was forced to look at life not as a single guy in an okay apartment, but as a married man who had plans to start a family. My friend also explained to me that his family was in the lawn care business and that’s where he would be headed, because by doing that he saw a path forward. In his family’s business, he could reap big rewards if he worked really hard, and that wasn’t always the case at the insurance company.
The Great Resignation
Today in America, we’re living through what Texas A&M psychologist Anthony Klotz coined the “Great Resignation.” At this moment, many Americans have questioned and are questioning what’s at the end of the road of their current jobs? Refusing to live and die as a wage slave, American’s are revolting, but silently. There aren’t any protests, or marches, or anything to draw attention to the movement. People have silently quit their jobs or have refused to return to work.
Between April and August of 2021, 20 million U.S. workers left their jobs according to BLS data. The resignation rate is 60% higher than it was during the same period in 2020.
While it’s surprising that the great resignation is happening now, it’s not a surprise that it is happening. Over the past 24 months, there have been several catalysts that have caused people to rethink their relationship with work. In addition to that, decades of worker complaints that have gone unattended have reached a tipping point. We take a look at the catalysts and the environment that helped kick off the wage slave revolution.
So much of the current revolution has to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic fueled the Great Resignation with two significant ingredients, time and money. To assist those unable to work due to the pandemic, the U.S. government increased unemployment benefits. The time home provided people with a moment to reflect and question everything like, what am I doing, where am I working, what am I working for, who am I working for, and other big questions about life people often never get a chance to ask themselves while in a daily grind. The time stuck at home, isolated, gave people the space to soul search. Unemployment benefits gave people the opportunity to experiment financially, especially those people who were able to make more money from government benefits than their job salaries.
Armed with money and time a good number of Americans went to work for themselves. When there were no sports to bet on early in the pandemic, unemployed Americans with a stimulus check and an unemployment check looked to the stock market, and surprisingly many of them won big. In June of 2020, headlines about retail traders beating hedge funds was the big news.
For those that didn’t master the markets, they figured out other money making opportunities that were easily missed when grinding out 10 hour days five to six days a week at a corporate gig. In isolation, people figured out how to leverage their corporate experience into YouTube and TikTok channels. Others figured out how to make freelance sites like UpWork ($UPWK) and Fiverr ($FVRR) work for them and their needs. In a study conducted by Upwork, the company saw an 8% increase since 2019 in people earning a living doing full-time freelance work. And for those unaware, Upwork is more than just dog walkers and entry level jobs. The same study by Upwork found that in 2020 50% of freelancers provided skilled services like marketing, IT, business consulting, and computer programming, which is up from 45% in 2019.
COVID-19 Part II
The delta variant had a major impact on keeping workers away from work. Even with multiple vaccines on the market for adults, the COVID-19 delta variant had been a major obstacle in getting people to return to work. Even with companies increasing wages in an effort to get folks back to work, many have decided to stay away due to the rise in delta variant cases the U.S. experienced over the summer of 2021.
An Environment Ripe for Revolution
It may have taken Covid to set the house ablaze, but the lighter fluid had already been poured and the match had already been lit way before COVID-19. Before the Great Resignation, millennials had spent the last seven to eight years speaking about “The Great Bamboozle.”
The Great Bamboozle occurred when young adults were told that in order to have any aspect of a good life, they had to get a college education at all cost. The Great Bamboozle pushed unsuspecting 18 year olds into major debt for their education with a promise that the education would lead to a better life. After falling for The Great Bamboozle, and leveraging their financial futures for an education, graduates found it very difficult to secure jobs that allowed them to live on their own, enjoy some small luxuries, and repay their student loans.
The Bamboozle wasn’t new, but millennials were the loudest about it. While millennials complained about their wages versus the amount of their loans. CEOs of major industries could only respond with tales of all the industries that millennials were destroying.
Throughout the 2010s CEOs have complained about millennials killing the real estate industry because many millennials chose to return to their parent's homes after college. CEOs also complained that millennials were killing the cable industry as many millennials decided to go with Netflix over a $150 a month cable bill, and one of my favorites was that millennials were killing the diamond industry, because they weren’t getting married at the same pace as their parents and grandparents. While millennials spoke loudly about the crippling effects of student loan debt, Wall Street’s only concern was that they couldn’t get another generation into more debt.
It has been a real struggle for the average worker over the past 20 years. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that since 1978 CEO compensation has grown 1,322% while the wages for a typical worker has risen by only 18%. In 2020, when many Americans were worrying about how they were going to keep a roof over their heads, CEOs of the top 350 U.S. firms made $24.2 million on average, an amount 351 times more than the average worker.
The Great Bamboozle created the environment that bore the current wage slave revolution, yet and still, hardly anyone with any influence has been vocal about stating such. Instead, the Great Resignation has been attributed to the unmotivated and lazy worker.
“Take this job and shove it, I ain't working here no more…” - Johnny Paycheck
Motivated to Work, But Not For You
Politicians, who were under the impression that government unemployment benefits were keeping people out of the workforce, cut benefits during the summer of 2021. In addition the U.S. government stopped the additional $300 per week unemployment payment after Labor Day. The results were not what the politicians expected. American’s did not return to work in droves as expected, even with unemployment benefits ending and companies raising wages.
The wage increase that many companies have been forced to do to lure employees is almost comical. For decades, companies gave every excuse they could think of why fast food employees couldn’t earn $15 an hour, and now they’re offering $15 to anyone willing to walk through the door.
But corporations are finding that higher wages aren’t the sole fix for the Great Resignation. Aside from low wages and low wage growth, workers have made many complaints throughout the years about their working environments and work life balance among other things. Work-from-home was a necessary evil for employers during the pandemic, it’s now been a point of contention on getting people back to work. For some people who have not left the workforce, working from home has been an employee benefit that they are looking to keep for good.
The country’s tone on immigration has also had an impact on the Great Resignation. In the past, backbreaking or remedial jobs with low pay and no benefits were easily filled by immigrants starting their American journey. Now, it’s these jobs that have had a hard time filling positions.
In one aspect, the effects of rounding up immigrants and sending them back to their homeland has caused the labor pool to shrink, which has caused a noticeable interruption in the delivery of goods and services. In Florida, strawberry farmers watched their crops ripe and then rot, because they didn’t have cheap labor to pick strawberries. For anyone who loves strawberries at affordable prices, this is an issue. On the other hand, the limited talent pool has caused employers to raise wages in order to attract workers, and we the consumer are paying for it. A pound of fresh strawberries in 2016 went for $2.51, and recently I paid $3.93 for the same pound of fresh strawberries.
There is no reason to believe that the Great Resignation will last long. At some point, people will be in need of money and have to go to those that have it and are willing to trade it for services. But when people return to work, the workplace should be a little different thanks to the Great Resignation.
Since the summer of 2021, I’ve heard more talk of the four day work week, and even more companies discussing a set work-from-home schedule. This is a complete 180 from where we were in late spring / early summer 2021. During that time, employers were looking to get employees back into the office by September 2021, and there was very little discussion about flexible schedules or continued work-from-home.
Like most revolutions, the wage slave revolution will give birth to better. Better wages, better working environments, and overall more options for the worker. Also, workers should have a better view of where they are going in their careers, and employers will provide more resources to help workers get to their intended goals.
The Revolution Has Begun
Similar to the reason my friend and mentor walked away from his job at the insurance company, I believe the Great Resignation is being prompted by people not seeing a path forward in their current situations. Politicians would have us believe that many Americans just want to stay home and collect pandemic aid for as long as they can, but the people not returning to work have proven that is not the case. What people want is to know that their job is going to get them somewhere that they desire to be, whether it be a better apartment, a house, financial stability to start a family, or out of debt.
There was a time in America where a man could get a job that required no college, and that job provided enough to afford a home, feed a family, and send kids to school. Those days have been gone for a long time, and neither employers nor politicians seem motivated to bring those days back or figure out where we got off that path. Today people are saying “I quit” in mass. Folks are tired of being just a wage slave, and the “Great Resignation” is the revolution of the wage slave.