Oct 13, 2021 - Podcasts

The economic fallout from rude customers

A recent survey of more than 13,000 workers found that 58% of restaurant and hotel employees plan to quit their jobs by the end of this year. And more than a third of them are citing difficult customers as the driving force. What are the knock-on economic effects?

  • Plus, LinkedIn’s censorship of some Chinese profiles.
  • And, charities take a page from government cash assistance.

Guests: Axios' Hope King, Bryan Walsh and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday October 13. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: LinkedIn’s censorship of Chinese profiles. Plus, charities take a page from government aid.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: the economic fallout caused by rude customers.

We've been hearing from so many of our listeners who work in the food service industry about how the past year and a half has been. For some like Gabrielle who owns a restaurant in the San Juan islands in Washington State, it's been encouraging to see how well people have reacted to so many changes in their restaurant.

GABRIELLE: Despite everything, I think that the most refreshing thing to be able to say is that we have had all but maybe one incident with a customer not wanting to adhere to local mask mandates. And for our staff to not have to have that one more thing added to their plates is really, really something to be thankful for.

NIALA: I wish I could say we heard that story from a lot of people, but we did not. For others, like Ash who worked in West Virginia, 2020 was their last year working in a restaurant.

ASH: I have never, ever experienced people being so rude and disrespectful as 2020. It's one thing to handle a few irritated customers per shift, but when every single one has a problem, it mentally wears on us. And yes, you all did make me quit. And I hope you enjoy your mediocre service and watered down drinks because almost everyone that loves the industry is leaving it.

NIALA: A recent survey of more than 13,000 workers found that 58% of restaurant and hotel employees plan to quit their jobs by the end of this year. And more than a third of them are citing difficult customers as the driving force.

So we wanted to turn to Axios business reporter Hope King to get the big picture on how the hospitality industry is changing. Hey Hope.

HOPE KING: Hey Niala.

NIALA: So what are we seeing now?

HOPE: Well, I think you heard it pretty clearly. Unfortunately, your first caller really is an anomaly in a landscape where people, on top of being worried about their health, they are worried about getting harassed by customers. You've seen massive fines being levied against people who have harassed flight attendants. You've seen people go to jail for attacking others at a bar. You've had violent customers shoot and kill customer service reps who are just merely trying to enforce mask mandates. So with all of these things combined, on top of pay that while it is going up slowly, really the equation doesn't add up for them. And so they are looking for other options.

NIALA: How are we seeing this play out in employment numbers?

HOPE: If you take a look at the jobs report from last month, you actually saw a huge surge in people going into the warehouse and transportation sectors, but you see that jobs are being lost in food and dining, so 12,000 jobs lost there. Overall retail is coming back a little but we are still about 200,000 plus jobs lower than we were back in February of 2020.

One of the problems with our economic recovery right now is that we still have a labor shortage in many areas of the supply chain. So if businesses don't have workers coming to work, they can't sell their products. They can't sell their clothing. They can't sell their food that ultimately then maybe impacts their business to continue, maybe they have to shut down. And if lots of these things are happening, that means more jobs are lost. If those jobs are lost, maybe the people who have lost those jobs will have less income to spend on other things in other parts of the economy. And it could really be a pretty bad domino effect.

NIALA: Axios business reporter Hope King. Thanks, Hope.

HOPE: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: In a moment, how charities are shifting their thoughts around providing cash aid.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. In 2020, the U.S. poverty rates declined. And according to the Census Bureau, that was the result of stimulus checks and unemployment aid. Axios’s future correspondent Bryan Walsh reports that philanthropic organizations are taking note and that the best antidote to poverty might just be cash in the hands of those who need it.

BRYAN: Hey, how's it going?

NIALA: Bryan, let's start with just what poverty looks like, not just in the U.S, but across the world, considering the fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic.

BRYAN: I mean poverty in the U.S. as you noted, actually did fall during COVID- 19. But around the world, people living in extreme poverty and that's defined as people living on less than $1.90 a day per person, really actually surge. And it reached 588 million people. And that was an uptick of tens of millions of people from the year before the pandemic. And that should be notable because we'd seen extreme poverty really decline for decades.

NIALA: Given that, how are philanthropic organizations - We've been talking about government support, how is the world of philanthropy moving to providing cash assistance?

BRYAN: One of the great advantages of cash assistance is that you can get money to people very quickly. You're not wasting any time with figuring out what kind of products they need. And it turns out, even the poorest people in the world, they know how to use that money. So we were already seeing that turn begin to happen in global philanthropy before the pandemic. But I think the pandemic in part, because of the success in the United States and other developed countries that really adopted cash aid for their own citizens, we've seen that it can also work in the poorest countries of the world.

NIALA: Bryan, of course the biggest problems with poverty are often structural. How has the pandemic shown that and how might these cash payments obscure or not fix those problems?

BRYAN: The fact that we've seen such a surge in poverty in the developing world is in large extent due to the fact that not so much the virus and what the damage the virus is doing, but you can't carry out a normal economy if people aren't vaccinated. And while getting a thousand dollars or getting however much money is very helpful in dealing with the short-term effects of that, we're not going to really see these countries get back to growing as fast as they could until they can get access to that vaccine. So that's perhaps an argument for some of that money going to fixing the really poor vaccine equity problem that we face right now.

NIALA: Axios Future correspondent Bryan Walsh. Thanks, Bryan.

BRYAN: Thank you.

NIALA: Over the past few months, the social media platform, LinkedIn has been banning the profiles of journalists, researchers, and government employees from being viewed in China, including Axios’ China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, who is with us now. Hey, Bethany.


NIALA: What's LinkedIn saying about these blocked profiles?

BETHANY: Not very much. They have responded to multiple email requests from me, from other journalists with a super basic statement just saying that we follow the local laws in China and that your profile is still viewable outside of China. And that's all they're saying.

NIALA: Do we know if LinkedIn's compliance with Chinese government censorship has translated to more business in China?

BETHANY: Well, it's certainly the case that their entry into the Chinese market in 2014, was predicated on their agreeing to self-censor. And, we do know, as of last year, that they have almost 50 million users in China. That makes China their third largest market after the U.S. and India, so certainly there is a lot of money there.

NIALA: And is this true for other American social media companies, are they self-censoring in China also?

BETHANY: Well, LinkedIn, interestingly, is pretty much the only major U.S. social media company that has agreed to enter China or that China has agreed to let it enter its market. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, those websites are all blocked in China.

NIALA: What does this say to you about China's relationship with American social media or internet companies?

BETHANY: Well, what it says is that the Chinese market now is so huge and so lucrative that U.S. tech companies are increasingly willing to set aside some of their founding values or at least perform some moral acrobatics to justify what they have to do to stay in that market.

NIALA: Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is Axios’ China reporter. Thank you, Bethany.

BETHANY: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: And before we go - let’s end on a brighter note! With the rates of covid cases dropping recently, Dr. Fauci said this past weekend on CNN that it’s safe for kids to go trick-or-treating this year. Especially since many are vaccinated and it’s an outdoor activity

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: I mean this is a time that children love, it’s a very important time of the year for children. I know my children enjoyed it.”

NIALA: So, Halloween is back on! Good news for candy lovers of all ages.

That’s it for today. You can always send us your thoughts by emailing our team at [email protected] or can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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