Robert Reich: American Workers Are on Strike Over 'Low-Wage S*** Jobs'

American workers are engaged in "the equivalent of a general strike," former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has argued, following unexpectedly low U.S. employment figures.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers released on Friday showed that U.S. employment increased 194,000 in September—about 300,000 shy of estimates.

Despite record level job openings and 7.7 million out of work, many employers still report difficulty filling positions.

Some have described the issues as a labor shortage. "But that's not what's really going on," Reich, who served as labor secretary from 1993 to 1997 during the Bill Clinton administration, wrote on progressive website Common Dreams on Sunday.

"In reality, there's a living wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage – and American workers are demanding an end to all these shortages. Or they won't return to work."

Among other aggravating factors, BLS' report highlighted parents struggling to return to the workplace as a result of high childcare fees.

Reich added that since the COVID-19 pandemic, some workers retired, found other income or "simply don't want to return to backbreaking, low-wage s*** jobs."

In September, the unemployment rate slid to 4.8 percent, the lowest rate since the start of the pandemic; however, one factor that contributed to the drop was that 183,000 people weren't counted as jobless because they did not look for work.

The labor force participation rate dropped to 61.6 percent in September, below the 63 percent experienced pre-pandemic.

"In other words," Reich wrote, "many American workers are now engaged in the equivalent of a general strike."

Experts have struggled to explain why so many have dropped out of the labor force despite a surge in job creation.

Asked for his own assessment on Friday, current Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said more analysis would need to be done before conclusions were drawn.

"I think that one of the biggest reasons, and again no one's tested this or checked it, is work-life balance," he told Axios on HBO.

"We're living in a pandemic, obviously the 194,000 this month is not the best number but we saw 317,000 in the private sector. So we're seeing good growth in the private sector."

Generally speaking, vacant government roles appear to have been harder to fill than those in the private sector. In September, a 123,000 fall in government jobs was offset by a 317,000 increase in private sector jobs, down on a 332,000 rise in August.

The U.S. Department of Labor has been contacted for comment.

Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich (left) testifies before the Joint Economic Committee January 16, 2014, in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images