Help Wanted!

John P. Warren
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Posted: May 15, 2017 10:29 AM
Help Wanted!

According the latest, not always believable stats, the unemployment rate is down to 4.4%, but there’s nothing to celebrate.

What started me thinking about this had little to do with that impersonal statistic. It was an everyday conversation with a small businessman I know. He quit college in his junior year—twenty years ago—because he already mowed over 175 lawns on top of several dozen, large commercial accounts, and he had no interest in doing anything else. With more work than he could handle, he bought the best, professional equipment, and hired plenty of people to help him while he ensured quality work for every customer. Today, he can’t keep up with it because, a: he can’t find enough people who can pass a drug test, and b: his acquaintances “on unemployment” won’t take the work—at >$17 an hour for a four-month gig. It’s an old story, but getting worse.

Business people—those running every little restaurant, coffee shop, flower shop, hardware store, and contracting business—have to pay for those unwilling to look for work, have to pay higher wages for those who will work, and of course, pass the costs on to us. Not a pretty picture here at ground level.

Zooming out, official stats say there are 161 million people in the labor force, and 4.4% of them—or about 7 million are counted as “unemployed” today. About two million are collecting checks. What’s most disturbing, however, is that at <63%, the labor participation rate is the lowest it’s been since 1978, almost 50 years ago. Out of 161 million potential workers, about 61 million are not working.

Marry those facts with 2014 data showing that 153 million people receive federal checks of some kind. If you subtract those receiving Social Security, Medicare, Veterans’ benefits, and unemployment compensation, that leaves about 108 million—including children—receiving means-tested support—Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, and food stamps. Under Obama, food stamp participation rose to 43 million people, up 11 million during his administration alone. How many people are part of the millions working or not working but receiving welfare of some kind and are undeserving of such assistance is hard to parse, but no matter how you slice it, it’s not a small number. And that’s a lot of overhead, isn’t it?

Millions of people who couldn’t retire in 2008 because they were financially decimated in the crash have more than recouped their 401k losses, especially given the Trump effect since November. Their departure from the workforce in droves has opened up millions of opportunities for the upwardly able, and the ripple effect on each lower rung of the job ladder has been incalculable.

At the bottom rungs, too, the opportunities are boundless, but most small employers will tell you, there may well be people available, but they’re not ready for work. Whether they can’t pass a drug test, or are physically incapable (consider the obesity rate in the US: 36.5% of adults according to the CDC), many have no experience in showing up on time with a positive attitude and willing to put in a good day’s work. God only knows where the legions of high school grads and college kids are who can’t or won’t take a >$17 per hour job for the summer.

There must be opportunities for entrepreneurs who can ready people for the real world of work. Training to be a barista, lawn jockey, or burger flipper may be relatively simple, but not much will be accomplished if benefits remain rich and mindless when jobs go begging. Are we not sufficiently sophisticated to adjust benefits geographically as the unemployment rate drops in the same areas? Since we’re evidently throwing billions away on benefits for people who have overstayed their welfare, shall we say, could we not spend a bit more to find out who really deserves the generosity of the working citizenry and who doesn’t?

The implications for immigrants—legal or illegal—could not be more favorable, could they? Unless we are able to euchre our own capable citizens away from the free lunch, hardworking aliens will be seen by many as a godsend. Joe Biden can make fun of those who drive taxis, run 7-11s, nail salons, and dry-cleaners, but the fact is people from those countries work hard and they didn’t come here with bags of gold. Most came here with nothing, and they came here legally.

For illegals, one has to believe it hasn’t escaped President Trump’s notice that if the economy skyrockets, the demand for deportation of hard-working non-criminals will diminish. While he smartly secures the borders, one way or another, his bigger challenge fulfilling a promise to create jobs for American workers will be to make all capable Americans work.

So, when ordinary working people—who are paying the freight for millions who can’t or won’t work because the system is rigged to entitle the underserving—cry out for good sense to prevail in the swamp, it gives a whole new meaning to Help Wanted!