“I’ve cleared rocks off these fields for years, but this spring I hired two boys to pick rocks, and they just fooled around – didn’t want to work. Nobody wants to work anymore.” You’ve probably said something similar yourself.

Jaynes lynn
Managing Editor / Ag Proud – Idaho

How true is it? Today, we point fingers at the video game industry, opioids and latchkey parenting (or helicopter parenting – take your pick) as culprits. I agree those are problems – maybe even unique as far as historical problems go.

But if you think “nobody wants to work anymore” is a new problem, history disagrees.

When someone says that no one wants to work anymore, the clear implication is “my generation” works, but “the new generation” won’t work.

Paul Fairie, a researcher and instructor at the University of Calgary, posted a thread on Twitter and cited newspaper clippings from as far back as 1894 complaining that “no one wants to work anymore.” Here are some of the clips:


1894 – “It’s becoming apparent that nobody wants to work in these hard times.”

1905 – “Labor is scarce, high and very unreliable. None want to work for wages.”

1916 – “The reason for food scarcity is that nobody wants to work as hard as they used to.”

1922 – “What is the cause of unemployment and hard times? The manufacturer and businessmen say it is because nobody wants to work anymore unless they can be paid enough wages to work half of the time and loaf half of the time.”

1937 – “Faced with a shortage of labor when unemployment is widespread, peach orchardists in York and Adams counties are complaining that ‘Nobody wants to work anymore.’”

1952 – “I heard somebody say the other day that everybody was getting too darned lazy and nobody wants to work anymore. That’s the truth if I ever heard it.”

1999 – “Nobody wants to work anymore. They all want to work in front of a computer and make lots of money.”

The ironic part is that someday Gen Z and millennials will say the very same thing – that no one wants to work like when they were young. I'm just going to give you a minute to let that sink in.

So, if it’s not a new problem, then what do we make of it? Well, there are two possible takeaways (prepare yourself, this is going to hurt):

  1. People do want to work, but on their own terms. (And really, what’s new about that?)
  2. Some jobs are challenging with low pay. So what people are really saying is they don’t want that job for the amount you offer to pay. Their fuel prices, housing costs, health care, family demands, tuition and car repairs all are stretched as tight as yours.

If you can’t find someone to take that job you’ve offered, you probably need to tweak the job (and the pay) to find a better fit.

I know – ouch, right? That hurts as much as picking rock.