Friday, September 29, 2023

OCPA column: Government shouldn’t discourage work

Government shouldn’t discourage work
By Jonathan Small

To make Oklahoma a place where all people can thrive requires that we make Oklahoma a place where people can work.

Work matters. It provides people with a sense of purpose and self-control even when they face financial stress.

That’s why conservatives are so strongly opposed to government policies that incentivize people to stay on the workforce sidelines. Such polices have severe negative impact on individuals and society as a whole.

Some on the political left promote government policies such as a guaranteed income, arguing that if people have confidence their most basic needs will be met, they will be happier.

But paying people simply for existing doesn’t make them happier. In fact, people who are heavily dependent upon government programs are often among the most depressed about their prospects. They feel they have no control over their own lives or their own prospects.

In contrast, a person with a job and an income, even a lower-wage income, is a person with hope. That’s something you can’t put a price on.

Work allows people to develop skills that lead to better-paying jobs. You don’t reach the top rung of the ladder without starting at the bottom. Oklahoma’s Harold Hamm didn’t start out as the billionaire owner of Continental Resources. He started out working plenty of low-wage, entry level jobs beginning with farm work as a child.

Talk to any successful business owner, and you will hear many tales of early struggle before achieving success. Work develops tenacity.

Work allows people to build social connections. The benefit of a job is not simply the paycheck, but the opportunity to interact with other people. And those interactions can, in time, lead to other opportunities.

Karen L. Jacob, program director of McLean Hospital’s Gunderson Residence in Massachusetts, has described employment as part of a patient’s healing process.

“Working has been shown to help stabilize people struggling with mental health conditions,” Jacob said.

Having a sense of purpose, a feeling of self-control, and being part of a community also contribute to better mental and even physical health outcomes. Those sitting at home with a welfare check don’t get those benefits, and instead often find themselves emotionally isolated and spiraling into greater depression.

You don’t have to love a job to get these benefits. Plenty of people have worked at jobs they found tedious in order to simply pay their bills. But the traits that allow people to succeed even in that environment also make it possible to obtain other jobs that are more personally rewarding.

As I said, work matters. And as a state, we should do all we can to make certain that people have more opportunities to work, not less.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs


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