“No One Wants to Work”: The Gaslighting of the Working Class

Rachel Wayne
Published in
12 min readDec 7, 2021

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on many industries, forcing businesses to either lay off employees or place them in the untenable position of customer-facing roles. Countless people switched to remote work, while others abandoned long-held jobs in the service industry. The U.S. government was (mostly) sympathetic, offering stimulus checks for all Americans and extended unemployment benefits for those who’d lost their livelihoods.

Yet as vaccination began to take effect and state governments lifted lockdown measures, something bizarre began to happen. Small businesses, specially those in the food/beverage/hospitality industry, started to reopen, then pulled a shocked Pikachu face when they couldn’t find employees. And so the drum began to pound:

“Thanks to government handouts, no one wants to work.”

This line has appeared on countless whiny signs posted at restaurants, bars, and other service-oriented businesses — often with a plea to “be patient with the workers that did show up.”

Both those who had worked in the service industry throughout the pandemic and those who left for health concerns were immediately angry. For years, they’d endured disproportionate rates of wage theft, high-risk jobs, and underpayment due to the U.S.’s bizarre tipping culture.

Now, they were being gaslit with messages that they simply didn’t want to work — and this lie was being used to avoid paying living wages. Worse, chucklefucks who fancied themselves economics experts were eagerly proclaiming that service-industry employees didn’t deserve a living wage … just over a year after gushingly praising them as “essential workers.”

As someone who has worked both service-industry and “white-collar” jobs, I was morbidly fascinated by these erratic claims. When I worked retail, I clamored for a raise to just $8.93/hour. Yet looking back, the cost of living combined with the health hazards of that job seemed way too high for what I was paid. Working at PetSmart, I had to deal with animal waste, diseased animals (including some carrying MRSA), and harsh chemicals… then turn around and perform sales, cashiering, and customer service duties. I worked 10–12 hour days at times — yet I was on food stamps because my entire…

Rachel Wayne
Writer for

Artist/anthropologist/activist writing about art, media, culture, health, science, enterprise, and where they all meet. Join my list: http://eepurl.com/gD53QP