Twelve years ago, when I launched mikeroweWORKS, our country was in a recession and unemployment was at record highs. Headlines everywhere talked about a lack of opportunity. However, during my travels around the country while filming Dirty Jobs, I saw “Help Wanted” signs everywhere I went. Even with unemployment through the roof, the problem was not a lack of opportunity, but rather, a lack of skilled workers.
That was the main reason I started mikeroweWORKS. I wanted to challenge the myths and misperceptions that kept people from pursuing a career in the skilled trades. Specifically, I wanted to highlight skilled jobs that paid a better-than-average wage and didn’t require a four-year degree. Also, I wanted to assist people who demonstrated a strong work ethic, an understanding of delayed gratification, a positive attitude, and a sense of personal responsibility. So far, we’ve assisted over a thousand such people with over $5 million in work ethic scholarships, but the skills gap, obviously, is still with us. And so too, is another gap worth discussing. Let’s call it, “The Will Gap.”
The Will Gap is reflected by the number of able-bodied people who could work, but choose not to. Don’t bother googling The Will Gap – I just made it up. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics has no official data to share, but if they did, I’d wager The Will Gap would be at an all-time high. When a jobs report misses projections by 800,000, how could it be otherwise?
The question is why, and the answer is so screamingly obvious I hesitate to point it out, lest I insult the many smarter-than-average souls who loiter on this page. So, I’ll let Charles Cooke do it, who has penned a simple analysis of what happens when the government pays people not to work. The attached article pulls no punches, and Cooke, as always, says it better I could. Here’s a taste…
“In part, the problem is political. Inexplicably, the federal government has decided to hand out a seemingly endless supply of no-strings-attached “stimulus” checks and massively enhanced unemployment benefits to Americans no longer in need of either, and then affect surprise when those people choose to sit at home. For a brief period during the pandemic, it made sense to encourage people to stay at home. Now, though, it most certainly does not. Now, we should be repeating the magical five words that have done so much to build this country into what it is: “Go and get a job.”
Last month, Dirty Jobs filmed in a shipyard in Alabama, where I had the privilege to help weld a tugboat together. It was hard work, and dangerous, and the men who did the job were both very skilled and very tough. At one point, I asked the owner how many aspiring welders he could hire tomorrow, if they showed up willing to work.
“Seventy,” he said, without hesitating. “I could hire seventy novices immediately, and I could train them a $15 an hour.”
“So, what’s the problem,” I asked. “Nobody wants to work?”
“It’s not just that,” he said. “The problem right now is, nobody HAS to work. Millions of people are getting paid the same wage to sit home. Or something close to it. I just can’t compete with that.”
I don’t build tugboats for a living, but I can tell you this – it’s hard to run a foundation that rewards work ethic, when the government seems determined to discourage it. And that’s the essential problem. Offer a guy $600 a week to learn a trade, or $500 to sit at home, and you can’t be surprised when he sits at home. He’s not being lazy – he’s being rational. We are wired – all of us – to act in our own self-interest. But let’s not keep blaming a “lack of opportunity” for what’s happening in our country. Opportunity is alive and well. It’s literally everywhere. According to the BLS – 8.1 million jobs currently open, with fewer than 300,000 filled last month.
What we need, desperately, are policies that encourage people to pursue the opportunities that are waiting.
Tugboats, after all, don’t build themselves.
National Review: Five Magic Words to Fix the Economy: Go and Get a Job