The right’s embrace the anti-work movement

From Bloomberg The Welfare Debate the U.S. Should Be Having: What does society owe those who are “unwilling to work,” and what do they owe their communities?:

But the shift in thinking about safety-net policies primarily as tools to help low-income Americans get and keep jobs is not as straightforward as it seems. Some people may be unwilling to work because they lack the very “work supports” — cash, food, housing assistance, medical care and the like — that would enable them to get and keep a job. It’s hard to find a job, let alone keep it, if you don’t have a roof over your head, or the medical care and nutrition necessary to keep you healthy.


There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here. On the one hand, if work supports aren’t tied to work requirements, then they give people an incentive not to get a job. On the other, if they are only available to people with jobs, then they can make it harder for people to move from not working into employment.


Implicit in the argument that people who are unwilling to work have forfeited their claim to economic security is that work is available. But jobs may not always be available, both for people who are willing to work and those who aren’t, particularly during economic downturns. During the Great Recession, there were over six unemployed workers for every job opening.


Another major challenge in weighing the balance between responsibility and economic security is what to do about the hard cases. How should policy handle the situation where a person is truly unwilling to work? Or a person who loses his job and won’t realistically be successfully retrained, but who is a decade away from retirement?

The author, Michael R. Strain writes for AEI, which is considered to be a Conservative think tank. This is an excellent article that is representative of a major shift among the ‘right’ over the past 4-6 or so years or so, from being unequivocally opposed to welfare and blaming personal factors (such as laziness), to now at least understanding that variables outside of one’s control (such as the state of the economy or even one’s IQ) are major contributing factors to poverty and low wages, or at least being more receptive and empathetic to the opposing side. Just telling the poor to ‘suck it up’, ‘get a job’ , ‘learn better skills’, or ‘pull themselves up’ is not helpful.

Same for the rise of non-judgmental conservatism and increased interest by the ‘right’ for a UBI, is further evidence of this trend. Many on the right can at least understand or are more empathetic to people cannot or choose not to work. A recent video clip of Joe Rogan, who generally has a right-leaning audience, about why “9 to 5 Jobs are B.S” was hugely popular, with a 95% up-vote ratio. There is also increasing cynicism by the right, and justifiably so, that corporations are tools for left-wing interest groups. Vapid expressions such as ‘social responsibility’ are intended to absolve corporations of any responsibly to their actual employees or for the consequences of their actions. In addition to not working, many young men are delaying family formation, choosing to live with their parents as Tim Pool notes. Many on the right understand that young people are facing a much more difficult social and economic environment, whether it’s false harassment accusations made worse by the #metoo movement, or social-justice indoctrination and diversity training in the workplace and in college.

During the Great Recession, there were over six unemployed workers for every job opening.

For many jobs and industries, it’s still this way. In 2011, McDonald’s had a hiring day and only out 1 million applicants, hired 50,000 people (lower than Harvard’s acceptance rate).

Although 10 million jobs having been created since 2011, and unemployment rate is just 4%, the labor force participation rate has not increased and remains at multi-decade lows at just 63%, suggesting that a lot of able-bodied people can work but for various reasons are unable or unwilling to:

There is conflicting data: the labor force participation rate is low historically yet unemployment is very low. The problem is, unemployed people eventually stop looking for work, which means they are no longer counted. Same for the long-term unemployed, who are also not counted if they stop looking for work. “To be counted as such by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they must have actively sought employment during the previous four weeks. That means the number of long-term unemployed is probably under-counted. Most people become discouraged and drop out of the labor force after six months.” This can explain why the labor force participation rate is persistently low in spite of low unemployment.

Also the labor market is uneven, with many low-skilled jobs having vastly more demand than supply, according to Zip Recruiter:

The result is a highly uneven labor market, characterized by labor shortages in some occupations and areas, but massive over-supplies of job seekers in others. While there are many opportunities for workers in manufacturing, construction, and transportation, for example, there are other occupations where huge numbers of candidates are competing over scarce jobs. Over the past year on ZipRecruiter, there were roughly 38,000 jobs for receptionists and over 3.6 million applications. That’s almost 100 responses per job. The picture is similar for warehouse personnel, such as pickers, stockers, and forklift drivers. There were roughly 72,000 jobs for warehouse workers and 6 million responses.

Jobs that don’t require much physical toll, special skills, and don’t require relocation have a lot of demand relative to openings.

Although 10 million jobs have been created since 2011, one must also adjust for population growth. Eight-tenths of a percent per year for eight years means that the labor force, just due to population, should grow 6% . In fact, nearly all job creation since 2011 can be explained by population growth (153 million workers in 2011 vs 163 million now).

The most valuable data would be hire vs. application ratio for a variety of jobs and skill levels and locations over a period of time, but this is the hardest data to find. If McDonald’s did another hiring day and hired 200k people (out of one million applicants) instead of 50k like they did in 2011, that would falsify my hypothesis. The number of job openings does not tell the fully story, nor does the unemployment rate. I imagine this is information employers don’t want to make transparent because low ratios would discourage people from applying.

It’s interesting how, up until as recently as five years ago, it was left who were anti-work, but now the ‘right’ is realizing that the idealization of ‘full employment’ is not only economically impossible but also impossible due to biological factors and also automation. Furthermore, work is not a virtue, but rather another way for interest groups to push their agendas, except instead of in academia and in pop culture, it’s on the job.