The Unspoken Workforce Problem

This may seem like a controversial stance: We do not have a labor shortage problem in the United States—we have a workforce problem. It’s that too many Americans value what’s “easy.” What’s fast. What can be attained  . . .  without sacrifice. 

Fifty years ago, when someone wanted to make something of themselves, they didn’t just dream about it. They created a plan. They’d work after nine to five; they’d add a second job. They didn’t worry about if it was a dirty job or a clean job. They just did everything in their power to make “it” happen….Whatever that “it” may have been, if someone wanted to make something of themselves, they didn’t stop until they were satisfied.  It wasn’t easy, but maybe life was simpler back then.  We often heard the term “hard-working” American back in the day; that was the American Dream. 

I also recognize that for certain people, the pathway was made easier (or more difficult) by issues of gender, race, and ethnicity. But across the board, the mindset was different.

I knew an individual who wanted to become financially independent, and he worked his butt off—both he and his wife. They made the choice. They said, “We want to be completely debt-free.” At the time, many people around them said, “Why would you want to do that? Debt is a good thing. You can leverage it in this fashion.” I’m not making that argument from a finance side. I’m making the argument that they were willing to work for a goal. Here he worked in the banking industry, at a job with a suit and tie.  At five o’clock, banking closes. He would change into his pizza delivery outfit in the office, trading his power suit and tie for a pizza chain T-shirt and jeans, and go deliver pizzas at night to make extra money. In three years, they were debt-free. It was more about a goal than about pride.  

And then they had the pride of being debt-free.

In the United States and other areas that are similarly advanced, there are jobs available, and there are needs, but these jobs are unfilled.  Too often it’s an attitude issue. It’s a willingness to work issue.  There are too few people willing to sit down and invest in their future, willing to get off of the death scroll of Instagram and go and develop the skills to create a real future. Too many people are seeing content creators making videos, generating millions of views. They are watching endless content, stuck on their couch, mesmerized; you might say it’s even seductive. It is important to say this is not a generational thing. It’s seductive to all generations that get caught up in it.  

We are losing our hard workers. We are losing our collective admiration for hard work. We are looking for the easy way.

I am also aware of social policies in place that can influence people’s decisions to work.  Generous benefits might actually discourage some from seeking employment.  However, I need to add that there are, of course, those who genuinely need the support—this is not about them.  I will go on to say that this perception of people not wanting to work in the United States can be influenced by various factors, such as economic conditions, social policies, and cultural dynamics.  The perception that “Americans don’t want to work” might be a stereotype, but we need to consider the complexity of factors affecting employment trends in our country.  The underlying causes of workforce participation challenges need to be addressed as well.

Perceptions of work ethic have varied over time and among different groups of people.  It’s essential to recognize that the idea of whether Americans value hard work has been debated for many years.  We have lost the “hard-working” American phrase.  It has slowly disappeared over time.  Now our question is when will we earn the catchphrase back?  We need to continue to salute and value our hard-working Americans and defeat this unspoken workforce problem.  Let’s go back to easy, simple, and hard-working.