Incentive to Work in America

In the arguments occurring in Congress over the last few weeks (and months and years, really), we often hear the conservatives arguing that people should definitely not be given “too generous ” unemployment benefits because it reduces or removes the incentive to work. These are the same people who talk about the value of a hard day’s work, and the dignity of work. How true is it that people absolutely wouldn’t choose to work, if they did not have a financial incentive to do so? If this were true, why would any CEOs do their jobs? They clearly have enough money to live out the rest of their lives after one year’s salary. Why don’t they all quit? Or is it just that the poor people couldn’t possibly be paid for NOT working because the economy runs on their cheap labor?

America needs a $15 minimum wage. America needs a robust social safety net. American needs single payer health care. America needs a universal basic income. America needs to pay women, caregivers, mothers parental leave benefits. None of this should be a question. And it should be paid for by a corporate profits tax on companies that have, for years, taken advantage of all these “features” of the American economy. They can afford it.

But really, when during the pandemic, as people have been thrown out of work and we have endured disaster after disaster, from fires and hurricanes to deep freezes and COVID, people have come out and worked for each other. We have built mutual aid organizations. We have stocked food pantries. We have taken care of each other. Everyone has found a way to be helpful to others, to strangers. We have worked, for no money, because there is a need.

There is dignity in work, but it has nothing to do with money. Money is required to survive, because landlords must be paid, but work will happen separate and apart. I believe people work because they want to. People create opportunities for themselves and others. This is human nature. There will be MORE creativity, MORE problems solved, and MORE caring, sharing and better mental health for all if we stopped shaming poor people and stopped demanding this or that work requirement for minimal compensation.

There are many ways and reasons to participate in the economy. Paying for goods and services with money, and performing those services both count as participating; they don’t both need to occur at the same time. We already don’t place enough value on the right goods/services. Let’s correct it. The time is now.

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