Since our brains are connected directly to the internet 18 hours a day like we’re in some message-heavy sci-fi parable about the dangers of technology, you’ve all seen pictures by now of those signs whereupon business owners complain that “no one wants to work anymore.” You know, because the local chain restaurant is short-staffed since pandemic-beleaguered employees have decided that the prospect of going back to a crappy job where the owner doesn’t treat you with human respect, pay you a living wage, or refrain from putting up crappy, insulting signage is somehow less desirable than extending their social distancing time and collecting unemployment and (still paltry) government stimulus money. (That still pays more than working at that particular Sonic drive-thru.)
Well, Amber Ruffin would like to unpack that whole “labor crisis,” as sign-scribblers and cable news talking heads have termed it. On Friday’s Amber Ruffin Show, the host addressed the fact that those minimum wage workers who are choosing not to return to the workforce just yet are just doing exactly what every sneering, classist pundit and armchair social critic has been saying all along. “All my life, I’ve heard the same argument,” said Ruffin, “‘If you don’t wanna earn minimum wage, get a better job!’ Well guess what? That’s what people are doing. They’re waiting to find a job that respects them, then pays them.” As Ruffin put it, succinctly, “It turns out the free market also means that the workers are free to only work if the job is worth it.”
And since Ruffin effectively had steam shooting out of conservatives’ ears at that point, she reminded everyone that the federal minimum wage is a below-starvation-level $7.25/hour. (Meanwhile, CEO pay has risen—checks, then double-checks notes—some 940 percent in the last 40 years, while the minimum wage has been kept right at the “skip lunch every day and you might be able to pay your electric bill this month” levels.) As Ruffin put it, the corporate come-on of, “Make you work until you’re 65 and you’re still going to die poor” isn’t quite the lure for pandemic-weary workers that it used to be. Ruffin also notes that, as usual, working mothers have even less incentive to return to having Boss Funny Sign and hostilely mask-averse customers yelling at them (or worse) for peanuts when exorbitant child care costs remain a uniquely American kick in the ass.
And, regarding those local businesses pandering to the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” crowd with demeaning door-signs all but guaranteed to ensure nobody will ever want to work there again, Ruffin discouraged viewers from getting mad. (Or, you know, never, ever patronizing that patronizing business again until it starts giving its workers both respect and a living wage.) Instead, Ruffin encouraged optimism, in that that increasingly untapped stay-at-home workforce is, indeed, pulling itself up by whatever bootstraps people can still afford by forcing businesses (and their red-faced, bewildered media boosters) that just getting a job isn’t the goal—getting a job that actually pays your bills and provides you with a “safe environment with employers who value your life” is. “Listen,” Ruffin concluded, “we could be living through one of the greatest labor movements in history, because knowing your worth is revolutionary.” Offering up her own slogan (soon to adorn protest signs everywhere, no doubt), Ruffin stressed, “This is a revolution, baby, so got get your money—you fucking earned it.”