Call to rebuild America’s once proud and productive workforce

Sen Doug Whitsett

by Sen. Doug Whitsett

Labor Day is a national holiday that is set aside to commemorate the working public. It is a day dedicated to celebrating being gainfully employed. It is meant to honor the myriad attributes that “having a job” provides for individuals, families and communities.

The survival of this great nation is dependent upon a well-educated, talented, productive, innovative and dedicated workforce.  That dependency is two-fold. An employed, self-sufficient workforce contributes to a healthy and growing gross domestic product. For the past six years, our chronically unemployed workforce has subtracted from that productivity, resulting in the poorest post-recession growth in our nation’s history.

The growing number of people who are now reliant upon government entitlements is one of the greatest dangers to our economic future. The cost of those entitlements is now by far the largest expenditures in our national and state budgets. For instance, the combined budgets of the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority have more than doubled since 2007. Those budgets now stand at nearly $25 billion, equal to more than $3,000 per year for every man, woman and child residing in the state.

To be clear–I do not consider Medicare, Social Security and other retirement benefits, or the first 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits, to be entitlements. Those are generally benefits that have been “bought and paid for” through years of payroll deductions.

My concern is for the rapidly growing number of adults who are dropping out of the workforce. The percentage of employment-age adults who are not working is the highest in at least four decades. This is happening, even though literally tens of thousands of Oregon job opportunities are going unfilled.

To be sure, a significant number of people are unemployed because they cannot find work. Others are unprepared for the jobs that are available. Still, others have physical or mental impairments that make finding and holding a job difficult. Too many have addictions to alcohol, or to illegal drugs, that make them unemployable.

But tens of thousands Oregonians are not even attempting to be self-sufficient. They have chosen to make their survival reliant upon food stamps,  welfare,  Medicaid,  subsidized utility services,  public funded housing and myriad other government assistance programs. In fact, those assistance programs are so lucrative that many welfare recipients believe that they cannot afford to go to work.

Many of these Oregonians also receive philanthropic welfare from the private sector. They access additional food, utility supplements, housing aid, child care and myriad other assistance through the faith-based community, food banks and community action services.

Equally troubling is that our cultural expectations have shifted. Those who refuse to work for a living are accepted as a normal segment of our communities. Moreover, we are expected to feel obligated to provide them sustenance. Those that dissent are labelled heartless, bigots and even racist.

That culture of refusing to work has become both familial and generational. Children learn from their parents that working at a job is no longer necessary, desirable or even honorable. The result is a growing dependency on welfare entitlements that is rapidly bankrupting our nation.

That “government owes me a living” mentality is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Historically, people who are employed have enjoyed the pride of performing useful labor and being self-sufficient. For instance, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King made these comments regarding the importance of working:

“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well.” “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity, and importance.” “It should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Dr. King knew that parents, who work, are better able to carry their own weight, to provide for their families and to set an example for their children. Further, a good work ethic provides the opportunity to progress into better-paying positions and even into business ownership.

He also understood that parents who refuse to work are much more likely to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs. Moreover, they are several times more statistically probable to engage in domestic and child abuse.

Adults who are consistently employed are much more likely to pass on those family values, by teaching children to work and to be self-supporting. Whether self-employed or working for another, that pride in contributing to the community and of being self-sufficient can only come from a good work ethic.

Moreover, virtually all successful businesses are dependent upon the work performed by their employees. In fact, business efficiency, output and profitability are reliant upon the work ethic and productivity of their employees.

The world of business is a competitive enterprise. It is a symbiotic relationship, where both job creation and employee compensation are limited by business profitability. The salaries of valued employees are competitively driven higher as business profits improve. Employee retirement plans, medical insurance, sick leave and vacation pay are all dependent upon the synergism between a good business plan and productive, innovative employees.

The pride of ownership, and the pride of a job well-done, are mutually beneficial. That balance, between workforce development and business profitability, is the driving force behind American exceptionalism.

We should dedicate this, and all future Labor Days, to rebuilding America’s once proud and productive workforce. I believe that it is the only way to “restore” America.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls