It‘s still fresh, but a morning sun breaks through when Chris Van Jura comes around the corner with his trailer. The Best Jersey Dog, promises the cheerfully decorated trolley. Chris unfolds the hatch, lights up the grill plate and in twenty minutes his hot dog stall will be ready. The first customer reports. For a darn good dog, Van Jura says with a big smile on his face.
Van Jura of New Jersey had a good career in the hospitality industry, at the last high management position at a major hotel chain in Washington. Yet he decided to set aside his twenty year career and start all over again. “I had a nice job, but I never felt certainty. A lot of people have thought during the pandemic; who’s actually going to take care of me? Treat me like a human, not a song?”
And he‘s not alone. America is experiencing an unprecedented wave of volunteer redundancies: people who say goodbye to their careers of their own accord. Economists have already christened the trend The Great Resignation. A record number of Americans resigned both in April and July of this year. In August, those records were broken again: 4.2 percent of the workforce stopped.
Talented people in big tech, quenched care workers, catering service, from low-paid work to management positions: they come from all possible sectors and layers of the workforce and have decided to change the helm. Bouncing back from the corona crisis, the US labour market is going through a small revolution.
Three hectares of cannabis
At the same time, unemployment, now just below 5%, is not exceptionally high. So where do all those people stay? Partly where Chris Van Jura stayed: they started their own business. Because in addition to the unprecedented number of voluntary redundancies, there has never been as many new companies registered in America as in the last 1.5 years. More than 7 million Americans took the plunge.
Another large group is making the move to emerging industries. Jon Lassiter gave up his position in the management of a retail chain for the cannabis industry. Cannabis is one of the most spectacular growth markets in America today. Lassiter: “There’s more to do here and more to earn, this industry is the magnet of the job market, very exciting all.”
On the weed plantation of the Culta company in the state of Maryland, the plants are man‘shigh and rows thick. Three hectares of cannabis, plus a large laboratory where seeds are grown and tested new products. “Four years ago, we started with five employees on the ground, now we have 165 colleagues, and we’re growing.”
In cannabis, wages are on average higher than, for example, in the hospitality industry or the retail business. And the lightning-fast growth of the industry gives staff opportunities to develop quickly.
But it‘s mostly the human measure that draws, says Lassiter: “Here’s also where work is sometimes twelve hours in a day, but in a small team. And you come out, see the sun rising in the morning. That‘s really different than working counter-clockwise or staring at a screen all day.”
American Worker’s Revenge
The Great Resignation could be seen as the revenge of the American worker. More than 40 percent of the workforce was under “low income” before the pandemic, with an average of $10 per hour salary and little to no health insurance or retirement. Hospitality and retail outlets in particular have been struggling to get staff since the end of the lockdowns. And where people apply, they have much higher standards than before.
“I don‘t know a single former colleague who hasn’t gone through this process,” says Chris Van Jura as he puts a fresh line of sausages on his grill. They immediately start to fizzle. “The disdain of staff, wages, work-leisure balance, the hospitality industry is simply no longer inviting. So people choose themselves and try to take back control of their lives.”
With the hot dog stall, he still works 50 to 60 hours a week, “but it‘s my hours, it’s my time,” Chris says. Hard work, but with much more fun. “I‘ve also been sommelier for a few more years,” he says with that big smile again, “Sometimes I sold $5000 wine bottles each. But I’d rather sell hot dogs for $5, much more fun.”