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To work or not to work, that should not be the question

You can make economic and employment statistics say just about anything you want them to say.

But here’s the bottom line: There are currently about 8 million job openings in the United States. And last month about a half million people took jobs.

Before the virus, unemployment was 3.5 percent, with 5.7 million people without jobs. In May, unemployment was 5.8 percent, with 9.3 million people unemployed.

There is only one explanation for jobs being available and relatively few people taking them while the unemployment remains high.

The person without the job has a better offer out there. It’s called the government.

Half of the unemployed workers stand to earn more in unemployment benefits than they did at their jobs.

With the extension of unemployment benefits by the government that runs through Sept. 6 in most states, $600 was added in weekly unemployment benefits to the $378 the labor department was already paying out. That equals $978 a week.

How many restaurant workers do you know that make that working?

We both know the answer.

Which explains why the line for morning coffee that used to involve humans now involves cars in the driveup window line.

It explains why the ice cream shop is not open for indoor snacking.

It explains why the waitress is handling every table during the lunch hour rush.

And don’t blame those who could be working but aren’t. Would you turn down the government’s deal when it pays the family bills more easily than what the boss down the street can afford to pay?

We both know the answer.

Twenty-five Republican-led states plan to withdraw or already have withdrawn some or all of the enhanced federal unemployment benefits ahead of the Sept. 6 expiration date. Most of the media calls this heartless.

But making it impossible for a mom-and-pop shop to survive, thereby losing a lifetime of savings over a virus they had nothing to do with, based in part on over-regulation by some governors who never miss a paycheck, is not called heartless. It’s being accepted in a culture that more and more is missing the value of work.

At a certain point, the country is going to have to collectively take the leap of faith that a functioning economy requires.

Our working-for-a-living muscle memory needs to kick in, reminding us how good things were before the virus.

Unemployment was at record low levels, particularly for minorities. Pay for lower-income workers was advancing at a greater percentage than their bosses. By any measure, the economy was booming. Record numbers of people were advancing out of poverty – by working.

At some point everyone needs to realize that the government can not perpetually pass out trillions of dollars in checks, courtesy of taxpayers.

At some point we’ve got to get back to work – face to face.

There are currently 16.6 percent of employed Americans teleworking.

Job-dressing in sweats with a 9 a.m. Zoom call as the key obligation for daily employment is great work if you can get it, but the long-term down side is pretty easy to obscure.

No more water fountain idea exchanges with fellow workers. No more supervision by the eyes of a boss. No more development of lifelong friendships over thousands of face-to-face conversations spanning years.

And please don’t insist all these things can be maintained with a computer conduit. Please don’t insist that a text is equal to a face-to-face conversation. Twenty-five years of doing it the old-fashioned way tells me that is not possible.

I know. Normal is not fun. The dignity of work is not sexy. Especially when millions of unseen taxpayers are footing the bill assigned them by opportunistic politicians for millions of other Americans to sit on a couch.

Somebody has to be the bad guy and tell everybody break time is over and it’s time to get back to work, with pay that matches the services and economic laws. The people who have been paying for our extended leave have long since run up a bill that generations will be paying.

The real world may seem less attractive than what we have been allowed to accept in the past 15 months. If we are not careful, we will find out too late what we have lost.

David F. Troisi is retired as editor of the Sun-Gazette. None of the opinions expressed necessarily represent the views of the Sun-Gazette.

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