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Beneath jobs numbers, occupation of idleness takes dangerous root

You go out to eat and there is one server for a room full of tables. Please, tip them well.

That old phrase about neither rain nor snow, and et cetera, keeping the mail from showing up in your box? If it’s Monday, that may not apply, despite the sunny and 75 September days.

Reopened restaurants can’t find workers. The Postal Service has put out an All Points Bulletin to find carriers.

A local industry representative speaking at a Williamsport hearing of the state House Majority Policy Committee cited a statistic that 42 percent of those collecting government benefits can make more from them than they can make working.

That explains the nation’s most recent jobs report of Sept. 3.

It showed 235,000 jobs added in August and an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, with 8.4 million people unemployed. Prior to the pandemic, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, with 5.7 million people unemployed.

Moreover, government labor forecasters had predicted 750,000 jobs would be added.

That’s because there are millions of jobs out there, with some business officials saying the number of jobs available may be as high as 10 million.

That explains all those “Help Wanted” signs you are seeing in windows.

The severe labor shortages prompted 26 states to opt out of the expanded benefit programs ahead of the Sept. 6 expiration.

The seven states with unemployment rates at or below pre-pandemic rates were all states where the expanded benefits were discontinued over the summer.

Of course, the leaders of these states will be characterized as heartless by those seeking to take political advantage of the pandemic. If those with legitimate health reasons for not working were being forced back to work, it would be heartless. Those folks deserve nothing but prayers and words of encouragement.

But the work vs. not-working numbers tell a much deeper, long-term tale.

They signal the creation of a nation that favors the check in the mail over the dignity of work. That, in turn, renders obsolete the feeling of achievement and self-worth that come with work.

The end result is millions of people completely dependent on the government for their economic well-being. That may make a lot of politicians and bureaucrats happy and perpretually employed, but it won’t bring individual fulfullment. And when people don’t gain fulfillment from their work and their contribution to the world’s daily progress, other things, including their families, suffer in countless intangible ways. A life without purpose and self-esteem carries with it a dangerous cocktail of depression.

Idleness and retirement at 27 should not be a goal. It’s just not the way the timeline of life is supposed to work.

If you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, “nothing” is not the answer you are looking for.

The better answer to that question would be anything that allows them to work hard at something they love. That can be a plumber or a professor, a restaurant worker or a restaurant owner, a well driller or a doctor.

The contrasts are stark, but the byproducts are the same. You are doing something of worth, and that something makes you feel you have worth.

And when you look in the mirror at age 68, you breathe easy from the powerful self-satisfaction that comes with knowing you earned these golden, more leisure years by doing the best you could with the work ability you were given over four-plus decades of employment.

I appreciate that this pandemic has derailed the natural train of employment life. My 63-year-old brother in Alabama makes a living as an independent sports producer, doing everything from broadcasting high school football games to shooting videos of Pee Wee football and baseball teams and players. Within a week last March, he lost his entire inventory of events – and therefore all his income. He did not have a boss to throw him an economic lifeline and the government’s emergency financial help could not locate a self-employed sports producer, so the unemployment and stimulus checks were not showing up in his mailbox for months.

The overdue rent notices and warnings of eviction were showing up. The exception for government tardiness had an expiration date.

So, in between panic attacks and negotiations with his landlord, he passed newspapers at 2 in the morning, waited tables during the day for a time and sold T-shirts at concerts to survive economically.

Was this the optimum employment/income plan he wanted? Certainly not.

But the mirror always stares back and asks questions, such as, “what did you do with your life.”

Our world will become a numbing sphere of depression if the answer to that question for millions of people becomes “nothing.”

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

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