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Is Government Eroding America’s Work Ethic?

by Stephen Moore     •      NY Sun youth unemployment

What ever happened to the old-fashioned American work ethic? I ask this because Thursday’s Labor Department report for June found yet another 430,000 Americans of working age (16+) dropped out of the workforce.

Over the last year more only 1.3 million of Americans of working age have entered the workforce even as the population of this same demographic increased by more than 2.8 million. Just over 1 million of this group found jobs. That’s right—of the increase in working age population, less than 36 percent found employment!

The labor force participation rate for those 16 + dropped from 65.7% at the start of the Obama presidency to just 62.6% last month. If this rate would have remained steady, the labor force would have been nearly 14 million stronger. Where are all the workers? Could it be that government policies paying people not to work is subtracting from the workforce. To ask the question is to answer it. Studies by scholars at the University of Chicago find that many poor people on welfare would hardly gain any extra income if they got a job or if they worked more hours.

The newspapers touted the reduction in the unemployment rate to 5.3% as a cause for celebration. Yet for every three Americans added to the working age population (16+), only around 1 new job (1.07) has been created under Obama. Where is the great American work ethic? At this pace, America will soon officially have no unemployment whatsoever. But that will only be because no one will be looking for work.

Here’s another depressing milestone under Obama. There are now 100 million Americans over the age of 16 that are not working. Usually when the economy picks up American workers who have been laid off stampede back into the workforce to earn a paycheck. Now we have a better job market with fewer workers.

This is partially explained by baby boomers retiring – at the pace of nearly 10,000 a day. But the largest reduction in the workforce has been among the millenials. Today the labor force participation rate for the 16-24 age group is 55.1% down from 60.8% a decade ago and more than 66% back in the late 1990s. We’re headed toward Greece where half the young people don’t work.

No one knows for sure why the labor force has shrunk so much under Obama. But it’s a good bet policy mistakes have played a big role. Minimum wage increases are pricing the young out of the workforce. Welfare programs are effectively paying people not to work. Too many Americans have high school and even college degrees that are next to worthless to employers.

Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, and other Republicans say that America could and should strive for 4 percent growth — up from the pitiful 2% of the last six years. ‎But this will certainly require a growing workforce. We need at least 10 million more Americans working to get growth up to 4% which happened under presidents Reagan and Clinton. To get there we need national policies that reward work and discourage idleness.

If the great American work ethic has been lost, it’s only because of dumb government policies that have stolen it.

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 Mr. Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a Fox News contributor.