Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she is concerned for future generation, as all of us should be – but not for many of the reason outlined in her Green New Deal. What we should also be concerned about – very concerned – is the example being set by those elected officials who are advocating for handouts to Americans who are “unwilling to work” and undermining the values that have defined this country since its inception.
The New York Democrat’s proposal is simply the latest progressive attack on work and opportunity, and it’s yet another step down a slippery slope towards dependency and away from personal responsibility.
As a mother and a former teacher, I can tell you that children are always watching. They pick up habits and principles from the adults around them, both good and bad. Devaluing work and encouraging dependency establishes a dangerous legacy for our children.
We each have a story of how we learned the value of work. For most of us, it comes from watching a parent or caregiver work hard to provide for us. Or it may come from our own first jobs. Learning the value of work is an important lesson, and it’s a lesson that is as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July.
It is also a lesson that is being obscured today as elected officials promote the concept that being unwilling to work is acceptable in our society.
This attack on work doesn’t just exist in proposed bills that may never see the light of day. Every piece of legislation that expands the welfare state – turning it into a destination for able-bodied Americans who are capable of working rather than a safety-net for the truly needy – chips away at the value of work. Every time a bill passes that prevents a former convict from obtaining a job after serving his time, or when byzantine regulations and fees prevent an entrepreneur from teaching young women to be cosmetologists, are teaching the next generation the wrong lessons.
If we’re truly concerned with the legacy we’re leaving for future generations, we must consider more than just infrastructure or the environment, we need to consider the role of work.
And this isn’t just a theoretical problem. Despite record-low unemployment and millions of unfilled jobs, millions of able-bodied adults remain on food stamps or Medicaid, and nearly half are not working. We already live in a reality where we allocate taxpayer-funded resources to those who are simply unwilling to work.
The problem is not just that more and more citizens simply choose not to work, but also that government at every level creates obstacles that make it more and more difficult to work, especially at the lowest income levels. State and local governments erect thousands of barriers to work in the form of occupational licenses, requiring applicants, many of whom are low-income workers, to pay thousands of dollars in application fees.
The war on work is particularly egregious when it comes to the case of ex-convicts. One of the leading indicators for recidivism is whether or not a former prisoner is able to obtain and keep a job. And yet, we’ve made it next to impossible for even the most well-intentioned ex-convict to do just that.
The war on work is no longer an issue confined to the halls of Congress or bureaucratic meeting rooms. It’s an issue that has seeped into our daily conversations and our homes. That is what’s most concerning: that viewing work as optional is no longer just a political talking point, but has become a cultural norm for too many Americans.
If we’re truly concerned with the legacy we’re leaving for future generations, we must consider more than just infrastructure or the environment, we need to consider the role of work. We need to promote policies that advance work, not only for the benefit of the job-seeker, but for their children, and for the children who are watching them.
How do we do this?
The answer is not more government hand-outs. What we need is more personal responsibility combined with commonsense legislation that gets government out of the way of work and promotes opportunity for all who are able, not just willing. Luckily, there are many state and federal policymakers who are on the right path.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have an incredible opportunity in front of them to consider the legacy we’re leaving for future generations—just as each of us do. Our children are watching—and if we teach them the intrinsic value of personal responsibility and the dignity of a hard day’s work, we will be leaving them with a bright future.