Once or twice a week, when I am back home in Garland, Texas, I go to my local barbershop.
And each time, I get much more than a haircut. I hear a healthy dose of community news, share in current debates, and learn a lot about the state of the country.
The barbershop is the heart and soul of the black community and functions as our community center. Anything you want to know about a community, you can find out from the barber—and nearly everything I’ve learned about hard work and politics, I learned from the men cutting my hair.
A common topic of conversation at my barbershop in Garland, which I still consider my home although I now live in Washington, D.C., is how government policies often make life harder for the families in my community. Despite a booming economy and low unemployment rate, millions of American men—many of them black men—are still not working. In fact, seven million men, nationwide, are missing out on the benefit of work. A smaller percentage of young men are working now than at the end of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate was an incredible 14 percent. But instead of encouraging men—and women—to regain their independence and work, too many government policies are doing the exact opposite.
Welfare programs inadvertently trap individuals in government dependency—making it easier to receive a handout than it is to find work. Burdensome employment regulations restrict formerly incarcerated individuals from finding work after their release—drastically increasing their risk for recidivism and re-incarceration. And local licensing laws erect expensive barriers to work that seem to exist for the benefit of licensing boards and small educational institutions.
With just a few smart policy changes to promote work, the conversation in my barbershop and in community centers across the country could change.
These policies don’t serve my community—and lawmakers, both in D.C. and in state governments—seem to be putting our men and women on a path to failure, not success.
Take the men in my barbershop, for example. Most of them are self-taught. They began early by cutting hair in kitchens and garages, and they learned a trade that will never go out of style. No matter the economy, men will always head to the barber. Yet despite this generational, self-taught skill’s success, the government requires them to attend school. Check out the story of Juan-Carlos from Arizona and you’ll get a good idea of what’s going on. Thankfully, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey intervened on his behalf, but it goes to show how government is making it harder—not easier—for men and women to find work.
Work provides dignity and enables families to not only be self-sufficient, but to flourish. Work is still the foundation of our culture in small town America, and we need elected officials who will stand up for the power of work to transform lives and communities. To this day, I credit the work ethic and determination of my barbers for helping set my own passion for entrepreneurship, and I want our federal and state lawmakers to refocus their efforts to do the same.
With record low unemployment rates and millions of available jobs nationwide, there is no time like the present to rewrite the trajectory for those unemployed or underemployed. With just a few smart policy changes to promote work, the conversation in my barbershop and in community centers across the country could change. Millions of American men could rejoin the workforce, and countless lives impacted by the powerful benefits of work.