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>Let me be clear – I stand by everything I said in my original post. The lack of work ethic in America is a serious problem, and it’s getting worse everyday. But obviously, that doesn’t mean every parent is a failure, or every teacher is a hack. Nor does it mean every kid is slacker, or every person out of work is lazy. However, there’s no getting around the fact that we – the collective we – are no longer instilling the belief that mastering a skill and working hard can lead to a prosperous life. Consequently, millions of able-bodied people have concluded the system is rigged, and stopped looking for work. This is, in my opinion, is the greatest threat our country faces.
>Let me riff on the Tea Party quote for a second. Many are asking me to explain exactly how we are we “churning out” the people in question. Personally, I think it started when we began pushing a four-year degree at the expense of every other form of learning. Back when we started describing education as “higher,” vs. “alternative.” Back when we started embracing goofy platitudes like “Work Smart, Not Hard.” Traditional portrayals of hard work have been slowly devolving into stereotypes ever since. On TV, plumbers were 300 pounds with giant butt-cracks. Every other skilled worker looked like Schneider from One Day at a Time. Books like “The 4-Hour Work Week” became instant best-sellers, American Idol became the #1 show in the country, and Madison Avenue found endless way to remind us that true contentment required less work and more vacation. Hard work, delayed gratification, and many other virtues once acknowledged as keys to success were gradually repositioned as impediments to happiness.
>Over time, people got the message. Enthusiasm for the skilled trades began to wane. Vocational education vanished from high school. The definition of a “good job” began to change, and before long, everyone was getting a trophy, or expecting one. Meanwhile, demand kept increasing for four-year schools, so universities were able to raise tuition at rates that far exceeded inflation. Vast amounts of money were then made available, and students borrowed it like never before.
>Today, the results are self-evident. One point two trillion dollars of student loans hang like a millstone from the necks of college graduates. Many are now perfectly educated for jobs that don’t exist, and untrained for those that do. Thus, the people we’re “churning out,” have been told to expect something that isn’t there, and trained to see genuine opportunities as vocational consolation prizes. Now, there’s an added obstacle that many employers talk about with real concern – a profound resistance to moving to where the jobs are. Not just a resistance – but a kind of indignation at the mere suggestion. Many people now believe a “good job” is a job that exists in one’s current zip code. This to me, is the most jarring thing. A nation once defined by a pioneer spirit and a willingness to keep moving, now seems stuck in one place.
>I know it’s hard to relocate. In some cases, I know it’s nearly impossible. I also know it’s easy for a guy in my position to sound judgmental and out of touch with the problems so many face. But every statistic confirms my point. People are resistant to change. We don’t want to retrain, retool, and relocate. We want a job that meets our expectations. A job that we like. A job that’s convenient. A job that pays what we think we deserve. These expectations are both limiting and unrealistic. But we – the collective we – have allowed them to persist. We reward the precise behavior we should be discouraging. My foundation does not.