What Happens to our Economy as Millions of People Lose the Habits of Hard Work?

October 7, 2015

If we're going to dig our way of what lies ahead, we need people who can work hard and start/operate new businesses.

Simply put, job growth is not keeping pace with population growth--specifically, the growth of the labor force which is generally defined as the population between the ages of 18 and 64.

So what happens to the economy as millions of people never acquire the habits of hard work or lose them due to chronic joblessness?

Yesterday I presented data on not in the labor force, which is defined as "persons aged 16 years and older in the civilian noninstitutional population who are neither employed nor unemployed."

The federal government reckons about 95 million people are not in the labor force. But this doesn't necessarily tell us whether these people could take a job or not.

To get some sense of what this means, let's look at the U.S. population in basic terms. The U.S. Census reckons there are about 322 million residents of the U.S.

About 74 million are under the age of 18, and about 42 million are retired (i.e. receiving Social Security benefits) and almost 11 million receive Social Security disability benefits.

About 2.4 million people are in prison.

Roughly 1.4 million are in active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.

That totals about 130 million people who aren't in the civilian labor force, with some caveats: workers can draw Social Security benefits and still earn a wages, for example.

That leaves about 192 million people as a base labor force. Out of this total, we need to subtract mentally disabled people who are not institutionalized or drawing Social Security disability benefits (unfortunately, many are homeless or in prison.)

We also need to subtract those who are earning money in the cash economy but not reporting their income--i.e. those who are employed but not showing up as employed in the data.

Then there are people who are raising children, home-schooling their children, etc. as fulltime work.

Others are providing care to elderly parents or relatives without compensation.

It is difficult to estimate the number of people who are performing work but not counted as employed because they're not being paid. According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), about 146 million people have some kind of paid job in the U.S. This could be anything from a $100 million hedge fund manager to someone with $100/year in self-employed eBay-sales income.

Roughly 24 million are part time jobs, and 122 million are full-time jobs. (The numbers vary depending on which agency assembles the data.)

Our focus should be on the millions who are not working at unpaid positions at home or at paid positions. Those who fall out of the work force (or never join it in the first place) may lose (or never develop) the habits of hard work and cooperating with others that are necessary to be productive.

As correspondent Kevin K. recently noted, the earlier one acquires the habits of hard work, the more likely it is that those habits will last a lifetime:

"Just like kids that start smoking when they are young tend to keep smoking until they die, people that start working hard when they are young tend to work hard until they die. On the flip side, kids today that don't do any work when they are young and are told what to do every minute of their days are not wired to work hard or think outside the box, which is an essential part of making the kind of decisions necessary to run a business.

I've noticed that the people that work the hardest grew up working hard because they HAD to. The kids that got up early EVERY DAY to feed and water the livestock so it would not die (my cousins in Oregon) are different than the kids who fed and got water for their dog knowing that Mom would feed the dog if they forgot. The guy up late because he needed to turn off the water to 20 units and change the angle stops before he can change a leaking faucet in an apartment where people are moving in the next day is a different person that the guy who spends a year deciding on the new faucet for the wet bar in his "man cave".

Most people know that kids who spend years taking golf, tennis or swimming lessons are not only better than most people at those sports but are FAR more likely to continue to participate in those sports as adults.

What most people don't know is that kids who spend years learning how to cook, maintaining their own cars and performing volunteer work are not only better than most people at those activities, but are FAR more likely to continue to participate in those activities as adults."

We encourage studying hard and playing hard, but how many programs in our educational system give young people an opportunity to learn how to work hard, especially for themselves as entrepreneurs/ self-employed? All too often it's assumed that studying hard and playing hard teach people to work hard. That is not necessarily the case, as work requires another set of attributes and habits. Some of these overlap with study and athletics, but not all.

Personally, I would make hands-on entrepreneurship a required course from intermediate school on, taught solely by people who have started and operated enterprises. Rather than a teaching credential, the qualification would be limited to the instructor has launched and operated enterprises in the real world.

If we're going to dig our way out of what lies ahead, we need people who can work hard and start/operate new businesses. The two go together. Entrepreneurship is not for slackers or those who give up as soon as the going gets difficult. It takes good work habits to persevere and keep learning from others and from one's own mistakes.

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