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America Has a Job To Do
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We believe that meaningful work dignifies and enriches human lives.

Every person who wants to work should find a choice of occupations to pursue. And every occupation improves the life of the person doing the work, the people the work is done for, and the family and community in which the worker lives.

The more workers engaged in meaningful work, the better our country becomes.

The opposite of work is not idleness but dependency, and dependency degrades human lives.

Those undeniable truths are why we shudder when we read the latest jobs report. Here is a sample of human degradation in America today:

  • There are fewer Americans working today than any time since 1977
  • Since 2007, 1.4 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared and 1.4 million part-time, low-level service jobs have been created
  • 8,000 young people between 18 and 24 lost jobs in July, once again, while people over 55 accounted for more than 100 percent of new hires
  • 93.8 million Americans are not in the labor force, and the aging of the population has nothing to do with that number

In a sense, we should consider these numbers a blessing. They tell us we all have work to do.

The we must do in America is straightforward: we must eliminate the barriers to work. We must stop treating a job like a punishment. We must remove the risks to our country’s generous safety nets by helping those who can work find meaningful work.

The reasons people can’t find meaningful work are large, but no challenge is too big for the American people. Conservatives must accept that trite answers and the usual blame won’t solve the problem. We’ve been repeating those answers and blaming those people for years, and the problems have only grown.

The first solution–one of many–is to make low-paying jobs livable. We believe that if you work and play by the rules, our society should make sure you can support yourself and your family. When we hear ideas to double the minimum wage, we know from irrefutable research that, while some will benefit, many will lose their jobs. And those who lose their jobs will suffer from humiliation. They will lose dignity and self-esteem. Their families will suffer.

That’s why we believe a better answer is to reform the Earned Income Tax Credit. Increasing the EITC will reward work instead of punishing it. When I read about the EITC in The Conservative Heart, I remembered a time in my life when the EITC was a blessing.

When I was an E5 in the Navy with two babies under two years old, we were struggling. We could barely afford gasoline for our Dodge Omni. My wife could not work because the babies were tiny. And E5 pay in 1987 was pretty low.

When I sat down to do my taxes, which I’d put off until the end because I was afraid I’d owe the IRS money, I got a huge surprise. A blessing.

We were eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Instead of a return of $30, we got a return of over $400. That money meant we could buy a cheap washer and dryer so we didn’t have to drive four miles to the laundromat. We had a bit of a cushion for the first time. It felt like we’d won the lottery.

A single person without dependents—one who’s playing by the rules—can get a maximum of $500 in the system today. That’s less than 50 dollars a month. We can do better.

If we increase the EITC for single people without dependents to $2,000 a year, there will be no need to raise the minimum wage. Therefore, employers will be able keep all their low-level worker and maybe even hire more.

Yes, this is a form transfer payment. But at least it transfers money to working people who want to get ahead.

Conservatives like to say that minimum wage workers only make the minimum wage for a short time. Then they get a raise or a new job.

That’s true. But it’s also true of the EITC. Eventually, those low-wage workers will finally rise above eligibility for the EITC. They won’t need it.

I’m sure reasonable people can find other problems with EITC. But they must offer an alternative that promotes the dignity of work. Some will say the EITC is welfare. Maybe. It sure didn’t feel like welfare to me when I was working 14 hour days in the shipyard. I felt like I’d earned it. Nothing you tell me will convince me my 1988 tax return was welfare.

America can find meaningful work for every person capable of working. The generations alive today have a moral duty to work toward that end. Let’s make the EITC the first step.

H/T Arthur C. Brooks and his wonderful new book The Conservative Heart

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