Lie Flat If You Want
The labor market is weird these days.
Unemployment is still high, but quit rates and job vacancies are up, too. Normally, we assume unemployment comes from people who want jobs but can’t find one.
These days it seems jobs are there, but some people don’t want to work.
Much is being made of the enhanced unemployment, which paid people more to not work.
We are now seeing some fans of the extra payments taking victory laps that it ended, but unemployment did not immediately fall.
I believe the permanent income hypothesis is a better way to understand behavior; if people have lots of savings, not only from unemployment benefits but also the stimulus payments and months of nowhere to spend money, this will influence their work choices for months to come.
Lots of good economic papers may be written about this, I hope.
Also, the last 18 months were hard and people feel burned out. Each week brings another story of people leaving the labor force.
There are many different reasons for this: Some are low-paid service workers who are using the time/money to learn new skills so they can get on a better paid job track.
But there also seems to be a significant and vocal contingent of well-educated people in their 20s and 30s who’ve decided high-powered careers aren’t for them.
They are channeling the lie flat movement in China, which started among overworked factory workers and is how Chinese youth are pushing back on the pressure for relentless work and drive for higher social status.
Though I am also told it is become something of a joke in China, like, “You say you lie flat, but you actually work 18 hours.”
Anyhow, never one to be left out of the oppression Olympics, some very serious upper-middle-class Americans, who work in jobs like public radio, also want to lie flat because they feel overworked.
I get it, work has been hard this last year; isolation made it even worse – but Americans have also never had so much leisure time. We work much less than people in the 1960s.
Work has always been hard, especially early in your career when you are building skills and finding your place.
Dropping out now may feel good, but your 20s and 30s are a critical time in terms of building a career (you also get most of your pay increases then).
So if some people want an easier track, good for them. I wish them well.
But they should also be prepared that that means they may not get the social status and experiences they also want that only come with success.
Life is about trade-offs.
Photo credit: Lachlan Donald on Unsplash