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CARROLL: Worker shortage means fast food is no longer that
David Carroll
David Carroll is a news anchor for WRCB in Chattanooga, Tenn.

I witnessed a rare sight while enjoying my fast food lunch. The manager was at the next table interviewing a job applicant. They were chatting before I started, and the conversation continued after I left. I got the impression the manager didn’t want to let the person go.

I couldn’t hear every word, but I imagined it sounding like this: “We will start you at twelve dollars an hour, but if you show up on time, put in your hours, and do your job well, we may eventually raise it to fifteen.”

“That sounds nice, but you’ll have to allow me to stare at my phone at least ten minutes per hour. It’s for my sanity.”

“Well, let’s negotiate. Can we bump that down to five minutes per hour?”

“Oh, I guess I could compromise. I’ll settle for eight.”

“You’ve got the job! Let me set you up for a drug test, it’s just a formality….”

“Wait...did you say drug test? Uh, let me get back to you….”

Welcome to America, 2021. The supply chain has snapped because ports are clogged. Automobiles aren’t being produced due to a semiconductor chip shortage, and even when there’s something to buy, you may not find anyone to take your money.

My local amusement park canceled its annual Halloween house; they can’t hire enough spooks. My reliable Sunday morning breakfast biscuit place has a “CLOSED DUE TO LACK OF STAFF” sign in the window. No one wants to make the dough, literally.

A popular family owned bakery dating back to 1948 is on the ropes, and the owner will soon decide whether to stay open after the holidays. This is what it has come to. If no one is willing to make (or buy) cakes and doughnuts, something has gone terribly wrong.

In my own industry, TV news, we used to take hours sifting through applications, resumes and audition tapes. We would carefully review each one in search of America’s next great journalist. These days, we are thrilled to get ONE response to a job opening. It reminds me of the old radio contests: “Caller #1 wins!”

When the pandemic began, we had no idea where it would lead us. Heck, on March 24, 2020 one powerful guy said that he expected the coronavirus would be gone by Easter, which was April 12. Yet here we are, eighteen months later. The loss of lives has been staggering, and our daily routine has been changed in ways that we could not have imagined. Are we in the home stretch? After watching stadium-filled football and baseball games, I would say yes. But as colder weather and indoor holiday gatherings approach, no one knows for sure.

As for the employment crisis, it continues to be fueled by a number of pandemic-related factors. Those in the retail sector tell me their workers are tired of being underpaid, overworked, and more recently, abused by angry, impatient customers. Evidently, substantial increases in starting pay are not offsetting the allure of being their own boss. They’d rather drive an Uber, babysit or do yardwork than be yelled at because the guy in the kitchen forgot to leave onions off the burger. (Helpful hint: you can remove them yourself.)

For a while, jobless benefits kept much of our former workforce at home, but those have been discontinued. Much to employers’ surprise, this has not resulted in an increase in applications. People still don’t want those jobs. They have gotten used to spending more time at home, and being with their family. No unpredictable hours, no more covering someone else’s shift, no working on Sundays. A few who are at, or nearing retirement age, have decided to “call it a career.”

Many have found a new employer willing to let them work from home, via computer or phone. Teens, once the heart of the supermarket/restaurant entry-level workforce, are no longer desperate to earn money to buy gas, games and shoes. Parents say, with a tone of surprise in their voice, that their teens are in no hurry to have a car. When I was 16, that was the only thing I wanted.

The aforementioned bakery owner has watched her number of employees shrink from a pre-pandemic 12 to a current three, including herself and her son.

“I’ve had a help-wanted sign up all year,” she said. “But I’ve only had two responses, and neither was willing to do the work.”

A neighboring TVA office building which once supplied her with a steady stream of customers now sits largely empty, as workers do their jobs from home.

If you have the solution to the employment crisis, send me an email for use in a future column. Until then, business owners simply say life has changed. In their words, “Get used to it.”

David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor, author and radio host. He may be reached him at