The unintended consequences of “non-essentiality”…

Has gov’t “branding” of workers slowed the vaccination rate and the return to work?

In the past, I’ve taken aim at “non-essential” government workers.

See: It’s snowing in DC … “non-essentials” need not report.

A couple of times each winter, the Federal gov’t in DC shuts down because of snow … or the mere threat of snow.

When there is a gov’t shutdown, my favorite public service message is blasted on radio, TV and social media:

Due the inclement weather, non-essential Federal government workers do not have to report for work today.

The closure announcement always raises a fundamental question: Why do non-essential Federal government workers ever have to report for work?


What has that got to do with a couple of our current challenges: vaccination rates and “labor force participation”?

In a prior post, we asked: Did rationing priorities induce vaccine hesitancy?

Initially, when vaccine supply was very limited, the Feds established priority recipients, mostly frontline medical personnel, first-responders and vulnerable seniors.

No problem there.

Then came a growing list of workers deemed “essential” (including, say, unionized teachers who were sitting on the sidelines)

What about the folks who were, by default, officially declared to be non-essential? Folks like grocery store clerks.

The message to them: you’re not essential … so, there’s no pressing need to get you vaccinated … just wait your turn.

Now, that vaccine supplies are plentiful, these people aren’t rushing the gates to get their shots.

After all, they either caught covid during the virus’ peak and have “natural immunity” … or they’re non-essential, so why bother?

That’s what’s known as an “unintended consequence”.


Might the same effect be slowing the return of some prior workers to the labor force?

It’s well publicized that the Feds are paying unemployed people at the supplemental annual rate of about $15,000 … more than many were making when they were working.

Of course, most behaviorists argue that work provides psychological benefits and bolsters self-worth.

But, the government had previously branded these people non-essential.

That’s gotta push some self-worth to rock bottom.

Ask yourself, why work for less money (than sitting home collecting unemployment benefits) … at a job that has been officially declared to be non-essential?

It’s called behavioral economics…

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