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The “dignity” of no job

Dr. Steven J. Allen author image /

Anti-jobs crusaders believe that no job is better than a job that requires long hours, or that doesn’t provide the right set of benefits, or that is too messy or too menial or otherwise unsuitable for people like themselves. From the point of view of privileged, comfortable elites, it’s clear: If you take such a job, you’re being exploited by some greedy businessman. Why take a job like that when you could live off welfare, food stamps, and a myriad of other programs for low-income people?

► In 1989, when a man named Ego Brown set up a shoeshine business in Washington, D.C., giving jobs to homeless people, city officials tried to shut him down because, as one “civil rights lawyer” put it, “Mr. Brown’s business is demeaning. At least if he were on welfare he could keep his dignity.”

► In 2011, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture won an award for helping people in North Carolina overcome their “mountain pride” that prevented them from accepting taxpayers’ assistance. “Eventually, many accepted assistance from the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program, and others, in some cases doubling a household’s net income. In one year, SNAP [food stamp] participation increased over 10 percent,” the USDA exulted, having broken those rednecks’ foolish “pride.”

► The food stamp program was intended, its sponsors claimed, to help a tiny percentage of Americans on the edge of starvation. In January 2012, after the number of people on food stamps hit a record 44.7 million—one American in seven—former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called President Obama “the food stamp president.” David Gregory, then-host of Meet the Press, suggested that that characterization has “overtones of racism,” novelist Walter Mosely in a CNN commentary called Gingrich a “poet” of “fear-stoked hatred,” and the Daily Kos called Gingrich’s comment a “race-baiting . . . dog whistle,” thus likening Gingrich’s supporters to racists and dogs. [Disclosure: I was senior researcher for the 2012 Gingrich campaign.]

► In July, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), a presidential candidate, declared his “aspiration” for the U.S. economy to be sustained growth of four percent a year, “which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.” The Left pounced, claiming that Bush wants people to work harder. “I think that he stepped way out of bounds criticizing the American people for not working hard enough,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “Jeb Bush Wants More Americans To Work Long Hours But Doesn’t Want To Pay Them Overtime,” declared a headline at ThinkProgress. “Anyone who believes Americans aren’t working hard enough hasn’t met enough American workers,” tweeted Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president.

Bush is right, by the way. At the current, very low rate of economic growth, which is projected to continue—they call it the “new normal”—Americans in future decades will be too poor to fund government obligations, no matter how high taxes are raised. If one calculates the future cost of government in excess of the expected revenue, the average family is currently about $3 million in the red. In other words, unless economic growth is returned to Reagan Era levels or higher, the U.S. is headed the way of Greece.

Speaking of Greece, late-night comedian Seth Myers said of the Greek bailout: “After 17 hours of negotiations, European leaders agreed early this morning [July 14] to a tentative deal to resolve the debt crisis in Greece. Seventeen hours—or as Greeks call that, a workweek.” Politicians obsessed with redistributing the wealth might want to consider the fact that wealth must first be created before it can be redistributed.

The Author

Dr. Steven J. Allen

Dr. Steven J. Allen is Vice President & Chief Investigative Officer at Capital Research Center. Allen heads CRC’s investigative unit, writes a series exposing political deception, and covers labor unions…