Ben is a young friend of ours who was an intern in our Washington office. This summer, Ben is working on yard crews and in restaurants prior to going into the military. This recent college grad is getting quite an education working with the working poor.
Ben challenges us: What can you say to young men and women who are working at minimum wage, who are not concerned about social issues like abortion and marriage, who are unchurched and uninterested in the threats we see to religious liberty? These young Americans are just trying to keep their heads above water. There are millions of younger people in America who are working at such entry level jobs. They don’t have health care coverage.
These young workers are not dumb and they should not be patronized. They know that things are not working out for them. They fear a dead-end on the road they’re traveling.
When President Obama offers health care coverage, when he touts community college and training opportunities, when he speaks of raising the minimum wage and expanding college student loans, this has to sound good to Ben’s co-workers.
What should I say to them, Ben asks? It’s a very good question. How about offering your co-workers a choice between stilts and ladders? Most construction workers are familiar with stilts. They’re used on a lot job sites. You strap them on and they can help a worker reach places previously inaccessible. They are useful tools—for the problems of here and now.
Mr. Obama’s program is offering stilts. We need to be honest with young workers. They will have access to things they could not reach before. They may see an increase in their immediate take-home pay. They will gain something from his administration.
But stilts will only get you so far and no further. Stilts are forever limited and so will your future be limited.
What young workers need instead of stilts is ladders. Ladders can provide upward mobility. They can enable you to reach heights previously unattainable.
You may be on the lowest rung of the ladder now. But you can with effort and persistence rise. You may not reach the highest rung on that ladder. Very few of us will attain the heights of college dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. But you can rise. With ladders of opportunity, you can improve your lot.
If you doubt this, just check out the Cuban-Americans, the Vietnamese- Americans and a host of other immigrants who came to these shores with barely the clothes on their backs, but who have worked their way up.