Returning to the study by the Brookings Institute, one of the key behaviors identified by them, to live at least a middle-class life in America is work. This essential key to life has been under serious attack with the Covid Pandemic and the response by Congress. For the last several years, we have allowed people to choose to work or not, but according to recent surveys we are nearing the end of the savings accumulated and people may be forced back to work.
Whether voluntary or forced, work is a key to self esteem and a willingness to work a key to financial success. While this might seem obvious, there is a difference in working just to put food on the table and working to accomplish one’s goals, which also results in putting food on the table.
Work is third on the list of things to discuss because it is superseded by marriage and education. Single parent households have a more difficult time holding a fulltime (or more) job because they must care for children. Individuals without at least a high school education often cannot find a job that pays enough to sustain a middle-class lifestyle. The most important combination of lifestyles was when good marriage and good education decisions were combined with fulltime work. The conclusion of the study by the Brookings Institute was that poverty in America could be reduced by 71% if a person completed high school, worked full-time, stayed married, and had no more than two children.
Two parent households allow parents to share parenting duties and potentially double the family income. No matter the family size, two parents and perhaps two incomes just go further. Shared rent, food, transportation, and other costs make life easier for the family unit. If the family limits the children to only two (higher than the national average, but lower than many poor families) then the income covers costs more easily.
We often hear that we must support single family households with money to ease the burden on single mothers. But doing so robs the mother of the self esteem that comes from work and sets the children on a similar path. According to the Brookings report:
“…work is a powerful antidote to poverty. Moreover, the expectation of work has implications for education, marriage, and family size. Young people who know that they are going to have to work would be more likely to finish school. Those who aspire to be stay-at-home mothers for an extended period would be more likely to delay having children until they are married since the government would no longer subsidize them to be full-time mothers.”
Clearly their study gives a path out of our current poverty and welfare system. We have evidence of the correctness of their findings from the Presidency of Bill Clinton. During Clinton’s Presidency sweeping welfare changes were enacted that produced results. Surprisingly we saw that taxpayers also responded positively since they saw that they were contributing to people who were willing to work.
Today our politicians have fallen back in to the pre-Clinton day habits where there are not just large disincentives to work, there are incentives to encourage destructive behavior. In today’s system those working to climb out of poverty are penalized as they get jobs. The more they earn, the less we help, throwing them right back into poverty and the “no incentive to work world.” Our current programs need to be completely revamped, and our financial crises might just offer the opportunity to revise all social welfare programs.
An August 22, 2019, article in Psychology Today by Alice Boyes, Ph.D. titled “What Psychological Benefits Do You Get From Work” cites some interesting benefits that seem obvious once you read them. She lists seven benefits, but with a lot of helpful detail.
- Work can provide friendship.
- Work can provide a sense of stability when life is rocky.
- Work can provide an intellectual challenge.
- Work can help you maintain a positive identity and self-worth.
- Work can simply provide the funds for you to do the activities you enjoy.
- Work can help you understand the world, other people, and yourself.
- Work can allow you to contribute to the public good.
These benefits can be especially acute for times when people are going through depression, or when a feeling of accomplishment is important, or need the self-satisfaction of earning for you or your family. She also points out an issue that became especially important during Covid: staying in contact with other people. Her observations tie in directly to the findings of the Brookings Institute study. Work is important on many fronts, far beyond just earning a living.
Another set of observations about work comes from Art Markman who wrote in the Harvard Business Review on July 01, 2021 about getting back to the office. In an article titled “Why You May Actually Want to Go Back to the Office,” Mr. Markman makes the important points that it is difficult to get a new job, get promoted, and stay connected with coworkers. His observations are more about why work from the office is preferable to work from home. This can be informative coming out of Covid lockdowns where many wage earners worked from home.
Employees often cite the benefits of lower commuting costs and saving time avoiding daily commuting. In some industries working remotely is the norm, and face-to-face contact is the exception. But corporations may view remote only employees as contributing less to the corporate culture, and they can be difficult to evaluate for promotions. A manager has more difficulty evaluating interpersonal skills and management skills of a person who does not interact face-to-face with subordinates. This is where the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome can kick in for promotions. Remote only work can be done, but it is tricky, and we think, makes promotions more difficult. Working remotely may be an effective way to start, but all workers need to be careful that it is not impeding their ability to earn more.
He also emphasizes some of the points made by Ms. Boyes. When people work face-to-face many serendipitous things happen and projects move forward at a faster pace. When people see each other daily they just understand who can help where. Mr. Markman adds emphasis to the issue of purpose. People who work together create a sense of common mission and understanding how each person contributes to that success is important.
These might seem like they are only tangentially connected to the Brookings study, but they are the next step in why work is important. We believe that once a person crosses the bridge to work rather than depend on the government, the “why” becomes key to staying there. There are many more benefits to working than just the paycheck at all ends of the economic spectrum.
The sum of our decisions determines our destiny!
Research Source Materials
The Brookings Institution, “Welfare Reform & Beyond #28,” by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, September 2003.
Psychology Today, “What Psychological Benefits Do You Get From Work?”, by Alice Boyes, Ph.D., http://www.psychologytoday.com, August 22, 2019.
Harvard Business Review, “Why You May Actually Want to Go Back to the Office” by Art Markman, http://www.hbr.org, July 01, 2021.