Life By the Numbers

“Well, I get up at seven, yeah
And I’ll go to work at nine
I got no time for livin’
Yes, I’m workin’ all the time.”– Geddy Lee

You couldn’t have set up the punchline any better. Our parish priest announced that the bishop was lifting the dispensation on attending mass virtually. So, no more live streaming of mass. No more simulcasts over the radio. Of course, that came with the usual caveats about health and what not. The punchline? Half of the choir was out with COVID and the high school confirmation night had been cancelled due to COVID. I guess irony isn’t lost on the church.

It was that moment that hit me like a ton of bricks. All of us desperately want to be back to normal. No one likes quarantine. No one likes masks. No one likes getting two rounds of shots and then a third. No one likes rapid tests or blood tests or antibody tests or any other kind of test. Some don’t like it and so they don’t do it. So, he we are.

A friend posted on Facebook about the unemployment rate and it created quite the stir. See, someone once said that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Sure, the numbers themselves don’t lie. They can’t lie. They are numbers. What can happen is that we can have false conclusions when we misunderstand the numbers.

Unemployment rates are based on the number of people actively seeking employment. If I stop looking for whatever reason then I no longer count. That is a stark contrast with counting the number of people actually working. In 2019, 157.54 million people were working. In 2021, that number dropped to 152.72 million. If you click on the link you’ll notice that 2020 was even lower.

When you have competing numbers it becomes important to talk about context. When you are a writer it becomes important to tie up loose ends. What does COVID have to do with unemployment and the numbers of people working? It has everything to do with it although most people wouldn’t necessary identify it as the culprit.

Clearly, there is a gap between the number of people seeking jobs (which is historically low) and the number of people actually working. Understanding the gap is the key to understanding everything. I really can only speak intelligently about my industry. There is a huge teacher shortage throughout the state of Texas. COVID plays a role in that, but it isn’t necessarily the only thing.

It would be more accurate to say there are a variety of factors that have come together to create this situation. COVID simply was a catalyst in bringing these factors all together. Suddenly, hundreds if not thousands of teachers realized they were being asked to do the impossible. Student to teacher ratios were increasing, more pressure was coming from on high about test scores, and support from the central office and from the average home was dwindling. Add that to a pandemic and the need to somehow socially distance 30 children while teaching an interactive lesson without people interacting and it was enough for thousands to throw in the towel.

This is just education. Those in other industries could tell their own tales. Working for a living involves trade offs. We all work for an income and that income allows us to afford certain things. Yet, we exchange some risk in return. That risk takes the form of stress, aggravation, and certainly our time. When those costs become too high then workers will decline the paycheck and live the consequences of that decision.

Employers have three doors to choose from. They can either deal with the loss of productivity, they can increase the pay, or they can work with the workers to mitigate the risks. Obviously, different employers have chosen each door to greater or lesser amounts of success.

Meanwhile, many on the employer side are waiting with bated breath like the bishop. They are waiting for that special day when everything will go back to the way it had always been. Like the bishop, they fail to see the irony of that belief system. We can certainly choose to believe what we want to believe about whether this change is a good or bad thing. If we want, we can call workers lazy and ungrateful for the opportunities they have. We can call employers greedy and unwilling to change with the changing times. Maybe it took COVID to create this new reality, but it doesn’t change what is. Somehow we will have to manage.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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