CONVERSATIONS: Things ain’t never gonna be the same | Opinion


Ken: Everybody is thinking about our getting “back to normal” after two years of a COVID pandemic that caused lockdowns and mandated business closures, but there is no end to obstructions to the process. Not the least of problems is that the virus refuses to go away.

One of those unanticipated obstructions to the return to normal is that demand for workers has grown much faster than the supply of job seekers. Part of the problem now is that throughout the economy, large numbers of employees are not returning to work while others are quitting existing jobs. Small businesses have been the most affected so far.

Department of Labor statistics put the number of resignations in September at a record 4.4 million. As the travel and hospitality segments of the U.S. economy are attempting to open again, there is a workforce shortage leaving restaurants and bars struggling. The airlines are suffering a pilot shortage. In the healthcare segment, we are seeing the effects of burnout among first responders giving rise to nurse shortage for hospitals.

For obvious reasons, urban police forces are shorthanded. Truck drivers are in short supply. Last September, it was estimated that there were 10.5 million jobs available while 8 million in the workforce were unemployed, and things get worse as the number of job openings is rapidly increasing. What’s going on? Will this problem naturally work itself out given time?

Joe: With certain occupations like nurses, police officers, truck drivers, first responders etc., showing up at work is a must and can’t be performed remotely. Remuneration and being rewarded by money for their time and being there is important to retain them. Wages thus have gone up for this group, particularly with nurses.

Then there are those workers far better suited to work remotely, who were thrown into hybrid and remote work because of the pandemic. If an employer takes away remote work from them now without showing any flexibility, he or she will contribute to the brain drain and resignations. Call it what you wish. People are rethinking their jobs, exhaustion, burnout, improving their quality of life, spending more time at home, having breakfast with the kids, childcare expenses, doing their laundry or exercising on their break, no commuting, yada, yada, yada.

I happen to think that all will end well with time. Frankly, it’s a matter of embracing technology. Working at home is not for slackers. I happen to like messaging apps for quick conversation instead of video conferencing, phone calls and emails. About the only good thing with video conferencing is seeing people’s faces, dogs, bonding and having a pleasant office culture. For those employees who prefer to be at the office and around people, go for it.

Ken: The motivation for working at any job is all about a few incentives: a sense of accomplishment, finding pleasure in being in a social situation with co-workers, and universally, money. Thus, nonworkers now might be holding out for more money. The generous stimulus and unemployment dough passed out by the Feds during the pandemic have given some workers a cushion to tide them over while they “lay around the shanty.”

There is one thing you don’t hear much about — the side hustle. Give 30- to 50-year-old workers a year off, and they might be inclined to use whatever skills they have to generate a little cash. If good with tools, one might become a handyman or handywoman. A person might do house cleaning, drive for Uber, sell things on eBay or Etsy, or work from home as a pet groomer, give music lessons, tutor a language, or cut hair.

There are lots of things someone with writing skills can do, or one can get out there and use tech skills for small business operations or use good taste to be a personal chef. There is always demand for landscaping work in summer and snowplowing in winter. A risk-taker can be a casino gambler, play the ponies, run a floating crap game, or use business acumen as a day-trader.

Many of these jobs lend themselves to being part of the shadow economy. Like, “Cash only, if you please.” Shadow economy work has no regulations, no licenses, no unions, no reporting, no taxes. A hustle with no hassle. The shadow economy also has a downright illegal component including things like burglary, bootlegging, gunrunning, and shoplifting (except in California). An estimate of the size of the shadow economy in the US is about 12% of the GDP or $2 trillion per year. With patience, perseverance, and some luck, the side-hustle can turn into a career. Whatever, things are never going to be the same.

Joe: The shadow economy is difficult to measure because people’s intent is not to be tracked or detected. But you are right the estimate of its size is about $2 trillion a year. Amazing, isn’t it? In a course in criminology in college, our prof described it as a side hustle working for cash where taxes were not paid and regs were not followed. He described it as an activity that was more attractive than robbing a liquor store to make ends meet. Duh. The only good news that comes with it is that although it is “off the books,” the trillions are then spent in the economy providing a stimulus.

However, on the question of side hustles and “money,” the WSJ reported that young people like teenagers are flocking to Tiktok, Discord and chat rooms for financial advice. Think about that. Why would they do that when most of them should be doing their schoolwork? My “aha” moment and answer came when I read an article in the Financial Times last week.

The new craze now on the internet involves kids trading cryptocurrencies (bitcoin, dogecoin, cardano etc.) and the promise of easy instant money. Since they are minors, legally they can’t do it. So, they persuade parents or an adult to set up an account for them. Do you think this is going to end well? Schools should institute courses on finance, risk, money and financial scams. It’s unfortunate that young people today can’t put their savings in a bank or financial institution and see it increase through accrued interest. Combine negative interest with inflation and taxes on savings, and what do you have left?

Dr. Ken Johnston has been an ENT surgeon in Kankakee since 1976. He has been on several community boards and has been involved with clubs and organizations. He has lived in Bourbonnais since 1981. He can be contacted through the Daily Journal at or directly at

Joe Yurgine is a practicing attorney, “Of Counsel” with Corboy & Demetrio, Chicago. He can be contacted through the Daily Journal at or directly at

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