'Nobody wants to work anymore': a throwaway complaint

Leaders responsible for hiring and retention may attribute tumult in the labor market to a simple claim: Nobody wants to work anymore. What can seem like a timely observation is a gripe that dates back to at least 1894. 

The chronological lineage of the complaint comes from Paul Fairie, PhD, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary in Canada, who tweeted newspaper clippings with the claim from 2022, 2014, 2006, 1999, 1981, 1979, 1969, 1952, 1940, 1937, 1922, 1916, 1905 and 1894. The last clip poses a question about how to obtain coal amid a miners' strike, ending with the statement that "nobody wants to work in these hard times."

After the pandemic-borne "Big Quit," the frequency of "nobody wants to work anymore" may be on the gradual decline given how job growth has slowed and unemployment claims are ticking up. The Washington Post reports the number of active job postings across multiple online platforms has declined nationwide for five straight weeks, according to an analysis by Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. 

The phrase also leans on the assumption that younger workers' work ethic does not match that of their predecessors in the labor market. Numbers challenge this premise. 

For instance, payroll data from more than 200,000 businesses via payroll and benefits provider Gusto shows teens made up about 2 percent of new hires in April 2019. By this April, the teen share of new hires had more than quadrupled to 9 percent. 

"What we're seeing across all industries, really, is that teens are stepping up to fill this gap as older workers age out of the workforce or are either still unable or unwilling to come back," Gusto economist Luke Pardue, PhD, told the Post. 

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