Charlie Harper: On Ending the Disincentives to Work

Charlie Harper

Friday, June 18th, 2021

If you ever want to meet someone that truly works for a living, befriend a server that works the breakfast shift.  Whether they work at a local establishment or one of the national chains, you’ll usually find someone who not only has to be presentable and functional at an unholy hour, but must endure hours of physical labor in exchange for tips that are a percentage of the least expensive meal of the day.


One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about our “return to normal” is my weekly visits to my breakfast diner of choice.  Any Georgian would know the chain well.  Each is the same, yet each has its own colorful personality and personalities.  

I’ve had the same server since I moved into my current home three years ago.  She too was in the process of buying a house that had gone on for over a year.  We talked about that and many other things.  Anything but politics.  

Breakfast is my quiet time to sit, think, and try to force myself to be human before tackling the day.  Having “real conversations” with her has often helped me be a better person after coffee and bacon than I was before sitting down at her booth.

I was excited for her when she told me that her mortgage company had finally cleared her home for closing.  I then told her it was going to be tough telling her goodbye, as the home was just south of downtown Atlanta, more than 20 miles from the restaurant where we had become friends.  

“Oh no!  I’m looking forward to cutting my commute in half!” was her always positive reply.  I was confused, as for some reason I thought she had lived nearby.  Instead, she had been driving from Ellenwood to Marietta and back, over 40 miles each way – passing many other exits with an outpost of the same restaurant -  to stand on her feet and serve waffles with a smile.

I tell you all of this so you’ll understand the importance of politics finally being broached two weeks ago, as I was sitting at the counter next to stereotypical “angry old man” reading his paper, and making occasional declarative statements to no one in particular about how the world should be.  He looked up and said “at least we’re going to finally quit paying people to stay at home and end these extra unemployment benefits!”

My server, dashing by to refill my coffee, made a full stop and turned around.  She, with a quick pre-amble to let it be known she doesn’t agree with much of the Governor’s or the Republican Party’s politics, was ecstatic to see this action.  “Finally, something I can cheer for” was her summation.

I spent last week’s column outlining how Georgia’s unemployment rate has returned to roughly 2018 and 2019 levels, and tax revenues from a hot economy are far exceeding any prior month.  A lack of workers has become one of the threats to many businesses, large and small, trying to normalize operations.

Those who remain unemployed will continue to receive up to $365 per week, just like in pre-pandemic, non-emergency times.  The extra $300 per week will go away as of June 26th.

There will no doubt be much press about how “cruel” it is to take away this incentive to not work.  It has been, after all, a rational economic decision for many to take more money to do nothing than to put the effort into working a full week’s worth of shifts, trying to please surly customers, and risk exposure to a fast-changing virus.

For those who only see it as cruel to continue the pretense of an emergency when there is none, talk to someone that has worked a public facing job while many of us were able to work from home.  Don’t ask someone who didn’t miss a single paycheck, and didn’t have to make the decision if working and paying the bills meant risking our health.

People like my favorite server have had to work short staffed, under difficult conditions. They have faced increasingly unreasonable expectations of consumers who don’t want to wait for service, didn’t want to comply with Covid guidelines, and don’t want to hear about rising prices or supply-chain shortages.

Ask them about how cruel it is to quit paying emergency bonuses to people not working when emergency conditions don’t exist.  You may need an extra refill on your coffee to get the full earful to that question.