Where are all the people? Good jobs, great jobs, sit empty all over the country

May 11, 2021

When I was coming of age, back in the late ‘70s, jobs were nearly impossible to get. Just to make ends meet, I took the only job I could find, at a place called House of Flavors in Breton Village Mall, Grand Rapids, MI. To start, I made $1.10 per hour. Later, when I became nighttime manager, managing the only other employee, a cute as can be girl named Renee, I got a bump to $1.35.

My friends and I would buy the Grand Rapids Free Press every day and scour the Help Wanted section, which had markedly less content than the obituaries. Come to think of it, if more people were dying than there were job openings, should not natural attrition simply have created more jobs by process of elimination? Should have. But it did not. There simply were no jobs to be had.

To get by I would collect cans out of golf course trash cans at night and then head to the Kroger where my friend Scotty worked in the bottle and can return department. Scotty was not so good at counting, so I would often turn in $10 worth of cans in exchange for $15 or so in cash. I liked Scotty and I secretly hoped he never got any better at math. I envied Scotty because he had a job.

Over time one friend or another would get a good job. Mark got hired on at Pietro’s Restaurant and within three months Mike, David, Greg and me all got hired on there. Over at Mr. Fables, first Gunar got hired on and then Pat, then Mike, and Ivor. That was the way it worked. There were not many jobs, but when one of us got hired, eventually all of us got hired. The system worked. Employers could hire quickly simply by word of mouth.

Today, 40 years later, even word of mouth does not help fill positions. At Syncbak we have 60 of the most talented, visionary, technical people on the planet. However, we need 80, not 60. Sure, there are job sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter and others, but they are a waste of time. People just are not there. Where are they? I do not know.

At my wife’s West End Diner, she has 12 of the most talented, passionate and creative people working at the best restaurant to open in years, but she really needs 24. People sign up for interviews, but often they do not even show up. Why? Where are the people? I do not know.

By 1981, when all of us joined on at Pietro’s, it was a rare thing for one of our friends not to have a job. Laurel, Libby and others worked at the hardware store. Some of our friends joined McDonalds on 28th Street, which made for interesting late night parking lot drama. Still, we all worked. Today, 40 years later, not so much.

I cannot help but wonder how we got to here. I would have cut my hair (yes, when I had hair, I had a mullet) just to join a place like the West End Diner when I was in high school. And man, to work at a company as cool as Syncbak, I mean come on, who would not want to drive the future of entertainment? I do not know.

I talk with a lot of companies. We are all in the same boat. I often try to answer the question I ask in my blog titles, but this one I cannot. Where are all the people? I do not know.