by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The rise of joblessness — especially among men — is the great American domestic crisis of the 21st century. It is a crisis of spirit more than of resources. The jobless are far more prone to self-destructive behavior than are the working poor. Proposed solutions that focus solely on providing material benefits are a false path. Well-meaning social policies — from longer unemployment insurance to more generous disability diagnoses to higher minimum wages — have only worsened the problem; the futility of joblessness won’t be solved with a welfare check. The loss of work for so many also reflects the emergence of a modern labor market with little interest in less-skilled job seekers. American wages were high in the 1960s and 1970s because of steady demand for unionized labor in Detroit and Allentown. Automation and globalization have destroyed many of those jobs, and the process is likely to continue. Technology gurus like Elon Musk believe that future innovations will make the human contribution to other economic sectors, including services, increasingly obsolete as well.
Yet every underemployed American represents a failure of entrepreneurial imagination. We can do better. Our educational system must improve the way it provides skills that bring higher earnings, and we need to experiment with new forms of vocational training. We should encourage entrepreneurial energies, including by making it easier for small businesses to get up and running in low-income areas. And social programs that deter employment should be reformed — and ideally replaced by a simple pro-work subsidy. It’s time to end the war on work.