With the unemployment rate holding at 3.7% and a 63% labor participation rate, more Americans are working, and that’s good. But it’s not just the numbers of current workers that matter. It’s also future workers. When it comes down to the fundamentals, a country’s value is determined by the number and substance of its citizens and the work they produce. In our case, we need to think about how to encourage family formation and worthwhile work.
For our population to remain steady, we have to have an average of 2.1 births per woman of childbearing age. Last year, the birth rate, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was 1.73 children per woman. If this continues, our population will decline. Over the long term, this will most likely lead to an economic decline. This means less creation and more decline and destruction.
This is not what we want.
There are a variety of factors that influence the birth rate, but clearly one is the cost and stress of balancing children and work. We must make it easier for families to have children, raise them successfully, work and live affordably. This week, Gladden Pappin wrote that we have “the fiscal resources for a family policy ... that would really incentivize the formation of families” in an article titled “How to Reconfigure the Right,” published online by The Daily Caller. This is a discussion worth having.
While we support and encourage families, we also must applaud worthwhile work. In 2009, Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” gave a TED Talk in Silicon Valley about the state of work in our country. His take was that “we’ve declared war on work, as a society -- all of us.” The war is being fought on “at least four fronts,” he said. Those fronts: Hollywood, Madison Avenue, Washington and Silicon Valley. Hollywood makes fun of and demeans skilled workers (plumbers, etc.), Madison Avenue declares that we should work less or retire more, Washington restricts job growth with policy, and Silicon Valley worships innovation without imitation. Rowe’s point is that innovation, while important, has to be replicated over and over again to build value over time.
The election of President Donald Trump was due in part to his understanding and applauding everyday Americans for their work and their effort. While Hollywood made fun of them, Trump thanked them for building our nation. Since entering office, he has instituted policies that have made job creation easier and led to our current economic boom. The Washington front of the attack on work is being addressed by Trump. While there is more to be done, great progress has been made.
But we are still under attack by Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley, in desperate search of the next unicorn (privately help startup worth over $1 billion). The messages we are bombarded with are: Look down on others, don’t work too hard, and hope you win the startup lottery.
The good news is that Americans are not so easily fooled. Gallup and Populace released a report this week detailing how Americans view success and how Americans think others in this country view success. The reports found that “most Americans believe others in society define success in status-oriented and zero-sum terms.” This would reflect the focus on Hollywood and Madison Avenue. The report also noted that “less than 10% apply this standard to their personal definition of success.”
This means that, while Hollywood and Madison Avenue are selling us status and being better than others, Americans actually define success based on “education (17.1%), relationships (15.6%) and character (15.4%).”
The average American reports a personal success rate of 68 on a 100-point scale, but there is a clear split based on political ideology. “Very liberal (63%) and somewhat liberal (66%) respondents report lower levels of personal success than somewhat conservative (72%) and very conservative (71%) Americans.” I’m not sure if this is due to causation or correlation, but it makes for interesting speculation.
For life to have purpose, we must have both relationships and meaningful work. It doesn’t have to be glamorous or exciting work, but it must be work that uses the skills and talents that God has given us in a way that makes the world a better place.
My takeaway is that by focusing on family and meaningful work, we can make not only our personal lives better but also our nation stronger. Just ignore those Hollywood and Madison Avenue messages, and get to work while creating strong families. Remember: America works best when Americans are working!