The Vanishing American Work Ethic

As a result of the pandemic, ‘Now Hiring’ signs proliferate in most restaurants, grocery stores, and small businesses, but most go unanswered.  Large blue-state cities, especially California, are plagued with hordes of homeless encampments; a migration trend that started long before the pandemic.  Thanks to conservative media, we at least know these homeless dregs of society are attracted there by lax law enforcement, offers of free stuff, and some are even paid by leftists who run these infested cities. 

The persistent unfilled job openings are puzzling.  Popular opinion blames the nationwide shortage of workers on the generous COVID unemployment and other payments, but there is much more going on, according to a piece from Mauldin Economics.  Its e-news publication, ‘The 10th Man’ published "Labor Force Participation Rate" highlighting a troubling downward trend in the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) which started about 20 years ago.  The LFPR measures the percentage of the working-age population that is either employed or actively looking for work.  The article basically recapped a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Mene Ukueberuwa "The Underside of the ‘Great Resignation’" who said, “One in eight men are no longer working, nor looking for work” and introduced a totally new trend called the Great Resignation.  This new name describes the unique surge in workers who quit their jobs during the pandemic in favor of early retirement or doing nothing: 

“This social phenomenon is very difficult to pin down. On one end, high-wage workers have left the labor force because of the stresses of working during the pandemic, with round-the-clock Zoom calls and isolation. On the other end, low-wage workers have quit their jobs, mostly in service businesses, because they find the work undignified and the conditions medieval. For a time, they could make ends meet with stimulus checks and child tax credits, but those have run out. No one is really sure what they are doing for subsistence in the meantime.”

The 10th Man article also mentioned a few consequences from the declining work ethic:

“…another reason you want people working is so they have things to do -- idleness poses political problems. …idleness tends to beget idleness, as people lose whatever skills they have left. Then you have generations of people not working. …Work is good for the spirit. There are few things more rewarding or satisfying than putting in a hard day’s work, accomplishing one or more things, and going home tired but happy. Idleness is a form of spiritual sickness -- sleeping in until 10 a.m., fooling around on social media, playing video games, maybe taking some drugs, and accomplishing nothing.” 

“According to Ukueberuwa, “Thirty years ago, America’s prime-age work rate was nearly 10 percentage points above Europe’s. Now Europe’s is a couple of points higher than America’s.” That’s a big loss in competitiveness. We used to make fun of Europeans for being lazy. Now, they have surpassed the United States in terms of work ethic. And the downward trend is intact. …at some point we will reach maximum frustration with the indolent.'“  


Another more fundamental clue about what is contributing to the trend was unexpectedly found in a tattered 1843 edition of the Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin purchased some time ago for 25 cents at a library sale.  One of Franklin’s essays in this old book titled “On the Price of Corn and the Management of the Poor” was written when the largest industry in the American colonies was agriculture.  Franklin wrote it in opposition to a proposed wealth redistribution tax that unfairly penalized farmers.  Many of Franklin’s observations from two and a half centuries ago are still applicable: 

“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion about the means.  I think the best way of doing good to the poor is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.  In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and, of course, became poorer.   And on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.  There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many almshouses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor.  Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful?  And do they use their best endeavors to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burden?  On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent [England in 1766].” 

Apparently, since then not much was learned from Ben about the unintended consequences of generous government handouts.  Franklin was correct in what he wrote, but we should never forget that our desire to help the poor has its roots in our inherited Judeo-Christian principles that helped make America great.  However, there is also a Biblical warning.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 it is written; "…If any would not work, neither should he eat."  In short, too much generosity discourages work, increases the number dependent on charity and unfairly penalizes those who work.  When the government does the giving, the poverty cycle only gets worse at taxpayer expense.  However, government welfare programs did buy a reliable Democrat voting bloc.  

Obviously, welfare is nearly impossible to roll back because, as George Bernard Shaw put it; “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”  Bill Clinton was the last president to reform the welfare system, although he did it under some political pressure.  Trump also succeeded in temporarily reversing the LFPR trend by getting many people employed until the pandemic hit.  Nevertheless, with the Biden administration in charge, the Left will likely grow the largest welfare state in U.S. history and thereby reap even more votes.   

Ben Franklin was a gifted judge of human nature and warned about the unintended consequences of implementing systems that increased dependence on government provisions.  Today this warning should apply to the Dem’s Marxist-inspired Green New Deal or the closely related globalist Great Reset scheme.  Either if enacted will most likely fail to create the envisioned utopia (run by ruling elites) where poverty is eliminated and achieve an equal outcome for all.  Instead, this type of forced equity will more likely increase the number of idle, dissolute, drunken, drug-addicted, and insolent citizens.

Image: Library of Congress

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