In defense of work

As most of you have heard, the Congressional Budget Office reported this week on the effects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "ACA," aka "Obamacare") on employment.

The media messed up in its first accounts of the CBO report, saying that the Affordable Care Act would result in a loss of more than 2 million jobs. The clear implication, if not direct statement, was that the job losses would be layoffs of workers by employers who couldn't afford the -- ahem -- Affordable Care Act requirements.

Within about 24 hours, this mistaken interpretation was corrected. What the CBO actually said was that more than 2 million people would voluntarily withdraw from the workplace because they would no longer have to be concerned about losing their insurance if they did so.

In other words, the job losses would be initiated by the employees, not by the employers.

Then, there was a lot of talk about how totally awesome this was -- that people wouldn't have to stay in crummy jobs just so they'd have health insurance. They could be pajama boys forever! They'd be free to paint, to sculpt, to open that little French bistro they'd always dreamed about, to have free-verse poetry slams at the City Lights in San Francisco --!!

Who wouldn't be in favor of this?

Please. Allow me to bring you down to earth. If we go down this road, which in my opinion we already have started for reasons having nothing to do with Obamacare, we will regret it. I say this as one who most definitely is not a workaholic by nature. We will be sorry if we start "embracing" voluntary unemployment.

I am here today to speak up in defense of gainful employment. Even (especially?) if it's in so-called "dead-end" jobs. Consider this a testimonial from a naturally lazy person. And, yes, I realize that all of what I'm about to say is painfully obvious.

1. Gainful employment provides one with a steady income.

2. Gainful employment provides one with benefits (sometimes), and not just health care, although that is very important -- jobs with benefits usually also provide life insurance free of charge to the employee, disability insurance, paid vacation, and sometimes great things like tuition assistance, credit cards, and all-expense-paid business travel. (And remember, the jobs that workers are going to abandon, according to the CBO report, are jobs with benefits -- that's why the workers had been holding on to them until now.)


3. Gainful employment provides one with a "community" away from home and hearth. Sometimes that may not be such a good thing, but overall we need to be exposed to people who don't just love us because we're "family." It encourages us to be better people. It "sands" the rough edges off our personalities. On a more positive note, sometimes we even make lasting friendships with the people we work with. If we didn't have to go to work, we'd miss out on all of that.

4. !!!!!Gainful employment provides discipline for our lives.!!!!! This is huge. What would we be like if we didn't have to get up every morning, exercise, take a shower, and start getting things done that were being measured by someone who didn't think we were a special snowflake? We would have skulls full of mush, that's what.

I know I would be sleeping until 10 (noon?), getting dressed only if I had to go shopping (which would not be often because I would not have any money -- see No. 1), and watching TV or surfing the internet (except that I wouldn't be able to afford internet access, see No. 1, so I guess just watching TV -- and I wouldn't be able to afford cable, so maybe not even that -- come to think of it, what would I be doing?).

Who needs TV?


5. Gainful employment helps us improve our station in life, if that's what we want. Through our jobs, we meet people who provide connections, encouragement, and help in moving up the ladder. We also get a better idea of what we want to do with our lives. You may say, Well, sure, that may be true if you're in a white-collar professional job, but what about if you're flipping burgers at the greasy spoon? Still true. My bosses in my minimum wage jobs were very supportive of my desire to move up and go to law school. Some of them even wrote recommendations for me. My mom and dad would have done the same, but I doubt that the colleges or other employers would have been impressed by a recommendation from mommy and daddy.

6. We all have different gifts, and professional or creative folks shouldn't be so quick to write off those "dead-end jobs." I have known many "career" people in fast food establishments, on production floors in manufacturing plants, and in other so-called "dead-end" jobs who took great pride and found meaning in their work. Not to mention people like plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and automobile mechanics, who have talents that I cannot even conceive of and of whom I am in awe (especially when something of mine breaks down and they can FIX IT!). Why are we so snooty? And for the people who were marking time in minimum-wage or blue-collar jobs until they could find something more "professional" or "creative," see No. 5.

7. Jobs -- of any type -- provide a natural limit on certain very bad habits, like substance abuse. (I don't have any statistics to back me up here, but it seems self-evident.) If the employer tests for illegal drugs, then enough said. But even if it doesn't, the fact that they have to go to work the next day and can't afford to be fired is what keeps many from overindulging. That's why people drink and use drugs more on weekends (and, when they miss work, do it mostly on Fridays and Mondays). What would happen to our country if we were all on a permanent "weekend"?

8. If we can afford to waste daddy's trust fund by goofing off and doing poetry slams full-time, then great. But the government (taxpayers) shouldn't be financing it. (And it's not really great, either - just none of our business, and not a large enough segment of society to matter too much.)

Yes, work can be a pain. Sometimes work is drudgery, and office politics, and not nearly enough money for what we have to put up with. Nothing in this life is perfect. But overall it is good to have work, and we need to remember that. More importantly, it's good for our society to be made up mostly of grown-ups who work.

So, although the CBO report wasn't as bad as we'd initially thought, it's still bad news on this particular point. And I can't believe I'm even having to say this.

DISCLAIMER: My post is NOT directed at full-time homemakers, retirees getting Social Security benefits, adults with serious medical problems getting disability benefits, or able-bodied adults getting welfare benefits or unemployment if they've tried to find work and are unable to do so. 

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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