Where are the workers?

Since the 1980s, incomes for the poor, the working class and much of the middle class have grown slowly, failing to keep up with either economic growth or the incomes of the affluent. Other quality-of-life measures are also flashing red. Life expectancy has grown more slowly in the U.S. than in dozens of other countries. Drug use, alcohol use, chronic pain and suicide have risen among the working class, while marriage and self-reported satisfaction have declined (as these charts show).

“Many, many people are realizing that the way things were prepandemic were not sustainable and not benefiting them,” Rachel Eager, 25, who previously worked at an after-school program in New York, told my colleague Ben Casselman.

Eager is now looking for a new job, but she is not in a rush. “My financial situation is OK, and I think that is 99 percent of the reason that I can be choosy about my job prospects,” she said. So far, she has not been willing to take another job with low pay, no benefits and little flexibility.

Her attitude is telling. The U.S. does not have a pure labor shortage so much as it has a shortage of workers willing to accept the working conditions that today’s economy often demands.