Has America turned from the “Home of the Brave” into the “Land of the Lazy”? Or are there deeper societal forces at work weakening the workforces of nations the world over?
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was a sitcom that ran on American television from 1959–1963. Its three main characters were Dobie, Zelda Gilroy, and Maynard G. Krebs. The latter was a counterculture beatnik who disdained work of any kind. Whenever the word came up in conversation, Krebs recoiled and yelped, “Work!”
Beatniks and Dobie Gillis are mercifully unknown to most people today. But Krebs’ attitude toward work has gradually taken hold—for reasons other than the sitcom—and has intensified in recent years. Although the causes vary, worker shortage is acute in the United States, Canada, China, Germany, and elsewhere.
The problem is complex, having many facets. There is the issue of aging populations. There is the issue of changing technologies that require different competencies. We see this in military forces, where brawn was once the primary—if not the only—attribute required of a soldier. Not anymore. Soldiers today must learn how to work with sophisticated equipment.
Another problem causing worker shortages, obscured by “unemployment rates,” is the number who have dropped out of the workforce. Economist Chuck Vollmer observed that Americans soon “will figure out that it is theoretically possible for the United States to have a zero rate of unemployment by simply having the unemployed quit looking for work. To be classified as unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one must be looking for work.” Vollmer notes that between 2000 and 2015, 11.6 million people entered the labor force while 26 million voluntarily dropped out—some to welfare, some to illegal ways of making a living, and some to sponging off their families (“Since Year 2000 26 Million Able-Bodied Americans Voluntarily Dropped Out of the U.S. Labor Force,” LinkedIn.com, December 1, 2015).
According to the Brookings Institution, “The share of prime-age men who are working or looking for work has been falling for half a century” (“Men not at work: Why so many men aged 25 to 54 are not working,” Brookings.edu, August 15, 2016). This report was published in 2016, long before COVID-19, and the situation has become more acute since then for a variety of COVID-related reasons. We can hardly blame Maynard G. Krebs for all the able-bodied men who have voluntarily dropped out of the workforce, but too many who have never heard of him have chosen his attitude toward work.
According to Brookings.edu, “around 7 million American men between the ages of 25 and 54—mostly too old to be in school and too young to retire—are neither working nor looking for work. That amounts to 12% of all men in those prime working ages—and that doesn’t count another 2 million who are looking for work but haven’t found it.” This same source explains that a large proportion of those not looking for work are from low-income backgrounds and are poorly educated. Too many have given up looking due to a lack of qualifications to offer an employer.
But this is far from being an exclusively American problem. Canada, Australia, Britain, and Germany have similar worker shortages. In France, riots are spawned over attempts by the government to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 to alleviate the government’s burden of pensions. Even in China, attitudes are changing. This June 2022 NPR headline sums it up: “Hard work is a point of pride in China. But a culture of slacking off is now in vogue.”
Belief in the theory of evolution has deceived mankind into thinking there is no existential purpose for humanity—and has left us adrift in virtually every realm of life. But we are not a product of blind chance. God created us with a purpose. He created us to be productive, and being productive requires both work and rest. Furthermore, God created man and woman to fill different roles in life—something modern societies increasingly refuse to accept. A man cannot become pregnant with a child. That is pure fact! Though some choose to live in a fantasy land, the rest of us should not mindlessly join them.
Too many have forgotten that there is reward in work, no matter how humble. Jason Furman, head of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers from 2013–2017, explained that “for many, probably most, dropping out of the work force not only means a lack of income but also a loss of the dignity that comes with not working” (Brookings.edu).
God created mankind to work, and when we choose not to work—out of laziness rather than genuine medical necessity—we invite negative consequences. As Furman points out, giving up on working is “associated with depression, with drug use, with suicide, with a range of bad outcomes.”
We have a need to work, to rightly enjoy the fruits of our labor, and to provide for our needs. Our Creator set the example at the beginning by working (Genesis 2:1–2) and He expects us to follow that example. Jesus Christ did not come to lounge around; He declared, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). And the Apostle Paul instructed the Church at Thessalonica, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:10–11).
Society’s ideas about marital roles have changed in the last half-century. It was once a man’s responsibility to be the provider for and protector of the family, but the feminist movement changed all of that. Too many men no longer understand what their role in the family should be, and are all too eager to sit back and let their wives assume the role of provider. This is not good for men, women, children, or nations. There are certainly reasons why a wife might need to become the provider when her husband is medically unable to work—and there is no shame in that—but that should not be the norm.
Work habits are best learned at a young age, which is why it is important for parents to set the right example and to teach their children self-discipline when it comes to work. “Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15), and “[h]e who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4).
Proverbs also addresses the man who has a thousand excuses. “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him…. The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” (Proverbs 26:12, 16).
The excuse that a job is “beneath one’s dignity” flies in the face of biblical instruction: “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23). In short, able-bodied men need to be working. If they think they can do better than flip burgers—great! But lounging around waiting for that better job to show up at the doorstep is not a good plan. There is dignity in all labor, and great reward—not just in money, but also in character and growth!