“The only place where success comes before work is a dictionary,” someone once told hair stylist Vidal Sassoon. Sociologist Max Weber had another way to describe America’s devotion to work, coining the term Puritan or Protestant Work Ethic. Ben Franklin said we are what we wear. Here, we have always been what we do.
Recently, two events occurred that show our waning belief that labor in itself is good. One concerns people leaving the U.S. workforce, too despairing to look for a job. The second references those who don’t intend to re-enter it, content to be a taker – to have a frivolous and empty life. Think of America as France, where the Welfare Ethic rules.
The first event, August’s unemployment rate, fell from 7.4 percent to 7.3 only because another 312,000 people left the workforce. In turn, the second woe, the labor force participation rate, fell to 63.2 per cent, the lowest since 1978 despite women swelling the workforce since the 1970s. Says The Wall Street Journal: “Less than 2 in 3 Americans today even have an interest in working.”
As The Journal says, the work participation rate shows an individual’s pride and a nation’s character, measuring “the share of the country that finds it rewarding enough to seek or get a job.” In 2000, 67.3 percent wanted to work, that figure falling especially in the last four years. In response, our Calamity-in-Chief in Washington utters clichés as empty as his suit about a real jobless rate now between 10 and 14 percent.
The Work Ethic says that we are responsible for ourselves – thus, labor is essential. The Welfare Ethic says government is responsible – thus, why bother to work? One example is the collapse of summer teenage employment. In 1999, 61, 33, and 40 percent of white, black, and Hispanic teens, respectively, worked at least one summer job. This year the percentage is 39, 19, and 27 – free-fall on parade.
Many teens couldn’t find a job, given Barack Obama’s fifth straight summer of non-recovery. Others chose not to work. This attitude extends to college. Some parents deem it wrong for undergraduate students to work, saying it takes precious time from study. In fact, it robs them of a gift — learning time management, how to balance many balls in the air, as they must as adults.
My own example may instruct, because it was once so common. In high school, I worked many jobs to save for college. Once there, I worked four concurrent jobs, including, most bewitchingly, circulation editor – paper boy! – taking the paper in my tiny Renault-8 on campus sidewalks from one dorm to another. I fit studying and socializing into the rest of my schedule.
Many career jobless would dub such work abusive. I thought it simply American, toiling like our ancestors. Mine would not recognize today’s Republic, as a new Cato Institute survey shows. If those who’ve stopped looking are counted as unemployed, the full array of welfare benefits – from Medicaid to housing aid – pays more than $12 an hour in half the fifty States. Osama has made welfare more generous than many entry-level jobs.
Today nearly half the country – largely the President’s something-for-nothing base – receives some form of Federal largesse. Incredibly, Obama brags of food stamps rising from 20 to 50 million. Anecdotes abound of recipients snarkily waving welfare checks as they wait in line to cash them. “Pennies do not come from heaven,” said Margaret Thatcher. “They have to be earned here on earth.” Not in this Presidency. Money is entitled, not earned.
Work tamed America’s frontier, split the atom, and beat the Soviets to the moon. Any civilization worth respecting demands respect for work in a hundred different occupations buoying a hundred million dreams.
Ronald Reagan, who as President regularly read paperwork till 2:30 A.M., was joking when he said, “They say hard work never hurt anybody, but I figure why take the chance.” The people who hate the Work Ethic aren’t joking. They will destroy America if we give them the chance.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here