Learning How to Work For a Living

Americans should have known half a century ago that then-President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” wasn’t going to work. He and other liberals assured us that if we’d just throw lots of money at poverty, we could erase it.

Part of the problem was that we didn’t remember the advice from an old Chinese proverb about teaching people to fish rather than simply handing them fish someone else has caught.

Federal “welfare” laws have been reformed somewhat. There are some requirements that recipients of government aid be looking for jobs or have them.

But what about folks who have no job skills – especially those who lack the most important training of all, in how to work hard?

Quite a few Americans lack that skill – a mindset, really. Look around at the number of “help wanted” signs that have been up for weeks or months.

I was lucky. I couldn’t have paid for college had I not landed summer jobs with what then was the Wes Virginia State Road Commission, through a special program for college students.

We were paid minimum wage and worked pretty hard. – manual labor for eight to 10 hours a day. It taught me two things, that hard work wouldn’t kill me and that there was a considerable amount of satisfaction in doing a job to the best of one’s ability.

Several years ago, I called the Division of Highways to ask why I hadn’t seen any kids working on the roads for some time. The program had been killed because very few young people were applying for such jobs, I was told.

Apparently, college students these days don’t need money as badly as I did way back in “the day.”

And don’t get me started on why the government doesn’t have a Civilian Conservation Corps like the program during the Great Depression. It helped about 3 million young men get through hard times, pick up some skills – and learn about hard work.

Signs that too many young Americans see no reason to work hard in entry-level jobs until they can find something better are all around us. Manual labor? Don’t we have Hispanic immigrants for that?

Some people on public assistance need it badly, through no fault of their own. But others just need to learn about working for a living – and we’re not doing much to teach them.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.