This is Sydney Harper, a producer at The Daily here in D.C.
Clare Toeniskoetter is the one you see here. I am on Smith Street, Brooklyn.
Walking up and down 18th Street in the nation’s capital.
18th Street is a huge hill. Ooh, child, I’m just breathing hard, breathing hard. Breathe hard.
Hi, how’s it going?
Hi, I’m a producer with The New York Times, a daily news podcast. We’re turning to an episode looking at businesses and local restaurants hiring people and if they’re having trouble finding people. Please let me know your name and the role you play.
Dave Delaplaine is the general manager.
My name is Vanessa. And I’m the manager here at Xochitl Taqueria.
Jonathan is my name. This is my family’s restaurant.
Hi, I’m Daniel from Savelli Restaurant in Brooklyn.
I’m Simona. I’m a manager at Mama Capri.
What size was your staff before the pandemic? How big is your staff now?
So, in February, I think we had around 13 employees. Now it’s six of us.
We had close to 50 employees before the pandemic.
Where are you now?
I have 30 now, I’d say.
So you’re actively hiring, then, right now?
It’s been so extremely difficult trying to find employees.
Right now, hiring is an insane idea.
The kitchen is probably the most difficult.
Experienced grill cook.
Sometimes I clean dish myself.
I’ve even had to do the kitchen, I’ve had to do deliveries.
I was last week cooking in the kitchen. I have a massive burn on my leg.
Oh, wow! I can see it. Are you okay?
I’m OK. But it tells you that I shouldn’t be working in the kitchen, most likely.
We’ll take anybody. And we’re willing to work with them and train them.
We get down on our knees to beg.
But we can’t even get that.
Where do you think everyone went? What do YOU think is happening?
Everyone is earning free money from their home. That’s all the reason is. It’s very clear.
The government is simply giving so much help. They’re basically making more money to stay home.
If I were to earn $600 per week, I wouldn’t be going to work. I would be relaxing with my money.
This unemployment makes people lazy. People would rather stay at home and watch TV than return to work.
Hey, Caleb, it’s Diana. Is it still a good time to talk?
To begin, could you please introduce yourself. Please tell me your name, your age, and where you reside in the U.S.
Sure. Caleb Orth is what I’m called. And I am 35. Chicago is a new place to me. I moved to Chicago at the beginning June. I’ve worked in kitchens since I was 19. I didn’t go to college. I went to culinary college. I wanted to become a chef. I tried very hard to make that happen during my 20s, 30s, and 40s. I made it very far.
My last job before the pandemic was in Portland Oregon, where I worked at an American-Italian restaurant. It was a job that was highly regarded, but it wasn’t my dream job. It is more than a full-time job to work in a restaurant of this caliber. It’s a lifestyle. It is a complete lifestyle. I worked there from 11:30 in the morning until 1 o’clock in the morning most days.
So that’s very unsustainable to me, just the culture of the work itself. You don’t eat meals at appropriate times. You’re always standing. You’re working so hard.
I would normally work a shift at this nearby restaurant.
Working in a kitchen where we’re, like, regularly 80, 90 degrees, sometimes even 100, being right next to ovens and heaters and grills and fryers.
You know, waiting tables jobs can also be very kind of psychologically damaging in some ways, because you have interactions with people who don’t respect you.
It would be terrible. We would be covered in sweat.
Then, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would sub in for a shift as a barista.
It stayed up for eight hours and took just five minutes to get down and eat.
You have to learn to perform at a level that’s, like, essentially flawless.
Living paycheck to paycheck is the reality of it all.
I was depressed.
It can be overwhelming. We’re constantly overworked.
There’s a lot of multitasking.
There’s a lot of pressure.
You know, dropping the meat and chicken. So there’s oil everywhere. Oil can drip down from the meat when you put it down. For a long time, my hands were covered in burns and scars. I still have scars. I don’t think they’ll go away.
It was horrible. It was really awful.
My last day of work on March 15, 2020 was my last day. We had a very slow service the night before. I also remember talking with another guy who was in kitchen administration. And I just said, hey, tomorrow I might be a little late, because I’m going to go to the store, and I’m going to stock up on supplies in case this gets bad.
So I was there the next day at the grocery store, buying food, and I was called. And they said, we’re closed indefinitely. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Everybody has a job. But we don’t know how long this is going to last. Five days later, we received an email essentially laying off the entire staff.
My name’s Katya Barmotina. I am 25. I am a musician and teacher. I live in Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy. I grew up in Brooklyn. So yeah, that’s me.
Tell me about unemployment. Did you — did you start applying right away?
I didn’t apply right away because I thought, you know, I have money. I have savings. And then, two months later, when I had, like, maybe one month’s rent, I was like, no, we got to do it now. You must apply. This is a terrible situation right now.
Do you remember how much money you received for the first week after unemployment began to hit?
It was about $600-$700 per week after taxes. It was very, very decent. It was amazing.
I loved to nap and have money come in. I was able rediscover and discover things I had never done for myself. I didn’t take the time to go for a walk, just to be with my thoughts and read in the morning. I’m reading “Immodest Acts,” which is a book about lesbian nuns in the Renaissance. It was liberating to think about the type of relationships I want. Organic buying. [LAUGHS]I bought a cat to improve my mental health. You know, some of those rich, bougie things that I wasn’t able to do.
Then I teach around noon. From 12:00 to 1:00, I usually have one or two students. Sometimes I take a nap in the middle of the day if I don’t have anything between, like, 1:00 to 3:00. I take a 2-hour nap. It’s amazing. Thankfully, unemployment. Thank you, government.
About how many hours a week would you say you’re working now?
Honestly, just teaching-wise, I’m working like 12 hours a week.
Do you see any scenario that you would like to go back?
No, [LAUGHS]Absolutely not. No, 100 percent.
All of us filed for unemployment in the spring of 2020, when Covid was just starting. Unemployment was much higher than it is today. At that time, the federal government paid $600 per week. And that’s on top of the amount that your state would give you, whichever state that you’re in. For a time, I earned more from unemployment than I earned working. I just mentioned how hard I worked.
I thought, you know, that this was a good opportunity for me just to take a breather. I know that I want a job in a different restaurant. My girlfriend and I had been seriously considering moving to New York City. I was offered a job in a restaurant there, which I loved and admire. I was going to apply to work there.
The best thing about it all was that I began to notice how rested I was. The bags that had been under my eyes for years disappeared. My feet stopped hurting. And I never really thought about how my feet hurt all the times. They did. My back stopped hurting. My back stopped hurting. I went to bed at a reasonable time and woke up at a reasonable time.
My girlfriend and I were out on daily bike rides all over the city, at the same time. We were going out and seeing places that we’d never seen before. All was not open. It was spring. Oregon is stunning in the spring. All these things were available to me that I have never had the chance to experience.
I am also a passionate cook. Because I love to cook. It was always a hobby of mine, before it became my job. You know, there’s this adage that my dad used to say to me — and my grandpa used to say it to me too — that you should take what you love to do, your hobby and make it your job, so you get to do that all the time. And that’ll make you happy.
However, I disagree with this statement 100%. I think that if you take your hobby and you make it into your job — your job being something that you have to do every day, whether you want to or not — that you end up hating your hobby. I know that’s true for me. There were lots of days where I had to go into work and I’d just be like, I really don’t want to do this. I’d be thinking about it, and they’d be like, I really don’t want to have to make this food again. I’m so tired of making this food, somebody else’s food, the same thing, over and over and over.
So during Covid, I’d be making meals at home. It was a great hobby that I really enjoyed. I’d make the best version of some kind of takeout that I could make, so stuff that we couldn’t get, like a full-on Indian meal or something, with naan and a bunch of different curries. That was a lot of fun for me. I was able to re-connect with the thing I love.
And I just started to think that this is how I’d like to live. I’d like to feel rested and well like this all the time, not have this just be some kind of little vacation. I thought, “Why am i doing this?” Is this really serving me or is it just serving my employer? Or is it only serving my employer? And the easy answer to that question is it isn’t serving me, it’s serving whatever my employer is, hands down. I was employed by someone else for all of my 20s, and the first three of my 30s. I was making $3,000 per month, and maybe $3,200 per monthly. It was enough to sustain me, I have no doubt.
But, you have to remember that that was only for 80 hours a week. And so I don’t want to have to live like that anymore. I want to have my work be my work and have it be something that I punch in for, and I do for a set amount of hours during the day, and then I punch out of it, and I go home and I don’t have to think about it. I think it’s a wake-up call.
Once I took stock of my life, I was like, I’m never, ever, ever —
There’s a whole generation —
— ever —
— they’re gone.
— ever, ever, ever going back to that.
They’re not coming back —
I worked at McDonald’s for three years.
I know of many others who share the exact same story.
— depressed, I was overworked.
There are nights you just want to rip off your hair.
— that are out.
I started getting more requests for online lessons.
— was able to escape McDonald’s.
They’ve taken a job somewhere else.
Now I work for Universal.
And then, somewhere around five to six students, I thought, maybe I should invest more energy and time into this business and see how it goes. Because here —
Universal gives me an hour break. The other half, which is 30 minutes, gets paid. That is what I find so amazing. Like, I —
Or they’re out, they’re back in school.
I was just having a conversation about my father. And he had said, why don’t you go back to school?
They can also do other things for a living.
I want to do my own thing one day.
E-learning has become a major business.
Our dream is to open an outdoor cafe that doubles as a greenhouse.
I have a lot of dreams, like —
I know many people who have made significant changes.
I feel like I wouldn’t have even considered doing that if I didn’t have the time to even think about it, you know?
I feel much more hopeful now.
What’s your plan?
I’ve accepted a conditional offer of employment with the United States Post Office here in Chicago. And I’m going to be a mail carrier. And I’m doing that because it offers me a regular schedule where I work during the day and I go home at night, where I have holidays off, where I have benefits and the protection of a labor union. And most of all, I’m doing it to be as far away from the tractor pull of work as I possibly can be.
Well, is there anything else that you — is there anything else that I didn’t ask you that you feel like I should know?
Well, I was thinking the other day, I was looking at Instagram, and it was this sort of trope that’s going around about these low-wage food places, you know, McDonald’s, Chipotle, et cetera, not being able to find anyone for their low-wage jobs. And it’s always something along the lines of unemployment’s too generous and none of these people want to come back to work. This is offensive to me. I do think that there are certain people that are saying that, that unemployment’s paying me far more. I don’t want to go back to work at this terrible job. And I don’t blame them for that.
But I also think that there’s a huge part that’s being left out of that conversation. And that’s this. Nearly 700,000 Americans have been killed by Covid. So I think that A, it’s super offensive to think that, why won’t these people come back to their terrible jobs where they’re going to make less than they are on unemployment. But B, what’s really not being said here is that a bunch of us died going to work. A lot of us lost our lives. The highest price paid by so-called essential workers was $80.
So I really feel like that’s something that’s not said enough. So I wanted to share that.
Hello. How are you?
You know, other than my cat having a skin infection, we’re doing all right.
Sorry to hear about the cat.
It’s fine. He just licks himself inexplicably.
[LAUGHS]Yes, I understand. So we are just trying to get back in touch with some of those we spoke to back in the summer. And I don’t know, the last time we spoke, I think you were pretty determined to make it work not going back to sort of a traditional job. And I guess I’m kind of curious, where are we now?
Yes, I did lose a few students this year. I had to take on a part time job. It’s kind of perfect for me because it’s a receptionist job, but it’s a reception job at a yoga studio. And it’s in the mornings, like, 20 hours a week. Nobody talks to you. I’m totally alone. I go in, do what is necessary, check out a bit, then go home and get paid. It’s great.
[LAUGHS] I think when we talked, you we’re still on unemployment benefits, which I assume those have ended now.
Yeah, yeah, they’ve ended.
Did it feel like a blow when it was over?
It wasn’t a big blow because I was expecting it. So I just found a way to make that money back in a job environment that doesn’t make me want to keel over.
It seems like a lot of the things that we talked about the last time have actually become even more a part of, I don’t know, the conversation more recently. Like the whole idea of workers sort of saying, you know what, I don’t want to go back to the way I used to do things, that actually seems to have become even more, I don’t know, in the water since we spoke.
Yeah. Weren’t they saying that once unemployment benefits stop, people will come back to work? But, we now have a Great Rectification. Like, duh. Duh. Duh.
But that is the most important part. I believe that some people meant that people would not want to return to low-paying jobs, but that they have no choice but do so for no pay. This is the same reason you did the low-paying job two years ago.
But then it’s also like the choices, I think, right now, are do I go back to a job I might not particularly like? Or, should I go into the unknown? The unknown seems more appealing to people than returning to work in a pre-pandemic environment.
I mean, didn’t I say that people won’t want to go back to their normal jobs? It was called.
You are proved right.
We’re going to fire the economists and bring you in. Although that is an office job, so I don’t know, maybe —
[LAUGHS]Okay, I have students to teach.
Yeah. Go, go, go. Thank you.
All right, bye.
Hi, Caleb. Can you hear me? Hi. How are you?
I’m good. Can you hear me? I’m talking on my car’s Bluetooth thing.
Yeah, I can hear you. Are you on your way back from work right now, or are you just about to leave?
I am. I’m a mail carrier in Chicago.
How was it to return to work after a break of almost a year and half?
It’s been really nice. It’s pretty hard work, but I don’t find it to be nearly as taxing, physically and especially emotionally, as working in a restaurant is. It pays very well. You know, I’m doing better financially than I ever have before.
Wow. That’s great.
Yeah, it’s good. I was ready to go home. It’s nice to feel useful again. And it’s nice to be earning a living again. And I don’t mean to say that I don’t think that I deserved the unemployment payments that I got. They were mine. Everyone else did, too. But it’s really nice to be earning your living independently of any sort of government oversight.
What are your hours like
I generally go to work at 8 a.m. And it’s pretty typical for me to get off at about 7. The hours are long. But they’re not at night. Every time I work more than 8 hours, I go into half-time. I earn double my pay every time I work more than 10 hours. There were also times when I worked late thinking that this was nonsense. I don’t want to have to work for 12 hours a day. Then, I got the paychecks and it was worth it.
Do you feel like you still have the time to pursue other interests in your life? To enjoy your evenings and do whatever else you wish?
Well, I haven’t been cooking nearly as much, that’s for sure. I’m pretty tired when I get home. And I don’t really want to stand. And then I’m still free in the evenings, so I’m able to see friends and hang out with my girlfriend — my fiancé, actually. We got engaged.
Thanks. And I don’t have nearly as much free time as I did when I was unemployed. But that’s OK. I was getting tired of it all.
Caleb, thank you so much for taking the effort to write. It was a great gesture, especially after a long day at work.
It’s fine. It’s my pleasure.
OK, cool. You had a good night. Thank you.
You can do it!
Source: NY Times