Menu

‘Nobody Wants to Work Anymore,’ 1894 to 2022

Claim

A January 2023 Imgur post depicts a real series of "nobody wants to work anymore" quotes, dating back to 1894.

Rating

True
Like this fact check?

Reporting

On January 10 2023, an Imgur account shared a “nobody wants to work anymore” meme, which had a compilation of purported print appearances of the complaint dating all the way back to 1894:

“Nobody wants to work anymore!” said plenty of capitalists

Large text at the top of the meme read “NOBODY WANTS TO WORK ANY MORE!” Smaller subsequent text described a “brief history of capitalists complaining that nobody wants to work for starvation wages,” with collaged examples reading in part:

2022[:] According to a new survey released by TinyPulse, 1 in 5 executive leaders agree with this statement: “No one wants to work”. These same leaders cite a “lack of response to job […]

2014[:] What has happened to the work ethic in America? Nobody wants to work anymore. It has not always been that way. When I first started to work as a teenager, I saw people work hard.

2006[:] […] like nobody wants to work anymore and when they do […]

1999[:] “Nobody wants to work anymore,” Cecil said. “They all want to work in […]

1981[:] […] off this land last week. But they just fooled around. They didn’t want to work. Nobody wants to work anymore.

1979[:] “Nobody wants to work anymore.” — disgusted businessman

1969[:] […] called “Nobody Wants to Work Anymore.” Talking about un- […]

The meme referenced discourse stretching back more than a century and which is still going on; further, the claim was surprisingly multifaceted (though not true at any point.)

‘Nobody Wants to Work Anymore,’ in Brief

The phrase “nobody wants to work anymore” (and variations thereof) rapidly evolved from discourse to a meme around May 2021.

On May 5 2021, we looked at a viral image showing a response to signs complaining “no one wants to work anymore.” One day later, we published a broader fact check about the seemingly abrupt appearance of such signs across the United States, which appeared to be part of a coordinated messaging campaign:

A Labor Shortage in 2021? Viral ‘Signs’ Are Not Employment Data

In it, we excerpted discourse from Reddit about the signs:

On April 23 2021, a Reddit user shared a photograph of one of the signs to r/weirdcollapse. In a comment, the same account (u/TheHipcrimeVocab) posited that the messaging was coordinated:

Some points:

There are numerous posts showing this exact same sign with the exact same wording all over the country. It’s clearly a coordinated campaign, most likely organized by the Chamber of Commerce or a right wing think tank.

The message is clear: the benefits Americans are getting are causing them to be lazy and indolent it’s a serious economic crisis. The signs aren’t there for the customers, the signs are there as part of a campaign to move public sentiment against any expansion of worker benefits in the US which, even today, is one of the skimpiest in the developed world.

By June 2021, the meme had reached Fox News (and was swiftly integrated with discourse about the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP “handouts.”) In July 2021, it was referenced in a circulating post about inherent risk to restaurant workers in 2020 and 2021.

Meme analysis site KnowYourMeme.com indicated that an April 9 2021 was one of the earliest iterations of the phrase, adding:

Nobody Wants To Work Anymore refers to a series of signs that appeared outside American businesses, particularly restaurants, during the spring of 2021 which stated the business was either closed or short-staffed due to “nobody” wanting to work anymore. The signs generally elicited mockery and parodies as they spread online, as people interpreted them to mean the company was having trouble attracting staff due to low wages and poor treatment of staff.

In March 2022, professional celebrity Kim Kardashian attracted controversy when she reiterated the claim:

A video of Kim Kardashian speaking about working women is receiving some backlash.

[…]

“I have the best advice for women and business. Get your f—ing ass up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days,” Kim Kardashian said in a clip … The comments didn’t go over well on social media, where many were quick to point out that Kardashian comes from a wealthy family.

‘Nobody Wants to Work Anymore,’ A Brief History of Capitalists Complaining

A reverse image search indicated the image was first crawled on or around July 20 2021.

On that date, it was shared to Imgur and Reddit’s r/antiwork. The following day, it appeared on r/WorkReform:

nObOdY WaNtS tO wOrK from WorkReform

On Imgur, the user also submitted a link to the original iteration of the list. On July 19 2022, University of Calgary researcher and instructor Paul Fairie tweeted:

The spool emoji denoted that Fairie’s tweet was the start of a thread. Working backwards from 2022, it provided larger versions of the meme’s excerpts and included:

In the space of a day, Fairie’s thread was compiled into a single shareable image — the one continuing to circulate in January 2023. Troy Petrie, a history and government teacher in Kentucky, responded to a July 21 2022 Twitter iteration of the one-image version, requesting citations:

A few hours later, Fairie shared a list of citations compiled by Petrie:

A different account responded to Fairie’s original thread with a labor participation chart, asserting it provided evidence supporting the claim that “nobody wants to work anymore.” Celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson responded to the chart, cautioning that readers should not “draw deep conclusions” from it:

Fairie’s retweet of Petrie’s citations represented an important part of the thread. However, Petrie reacted to the existing one-image meme, and the citations were decoupled from the meme version.

Summary

On January 10 2022, a popular Imgur post purportedly showed clippings of “nobody wants to work anymore” complaints in newspapers dating back to 1894. The meme circulated intermittently, originating with a Twitter thread by researcher Paul Fairie on July 19 2021. One variation of the meme led to a list of citations (embedded above), which were added to the thread after the image was generated.