Commentary: Americans believe in the value of work

By Sen. James Lankford

Oklahomans from Kenton to Idabel and Hollis to Quapaw understand the value of work and supporting our families. As Proverbs 14:23 states, “All hard work brings profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” Unfortunately, the “talk” among Democrats inWashington, DC, will lead many of our families to poverty.

In the 1990s, Democrats and Republicans cheered as President Clinton declared the United States was “ending welfare as we know it” by promoting the dignity of work and offering solutions to help lift people out of poverty. We dropped the failed welfare system that sent checks to people not working decades ago. Now Biden and congressional Democrats want to go back to the “welfare as we knew it” with their multi-trillion dollar tax and spending plan. Their plan centers on passing out checks and redistributing wealth to “end poverty.” Handing out checks doesn’t lift people out of poverty. Strong families, a good education, and honest work lifts people out of poverty.

As our state motto says, “labor conquers all things.”

The Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, DC, published a study that concluded the three most important actions that help people escape poverty are: graduate high school, get a full-time job—any job, and wait until you’re 21 to get married and have children. Nearly 75 percent of people in poverty were able to rise to the middle class if they graduated high school, got a full time job and waited until marriage to have children. 

Earlier this year, when Biden and Democrats in Congress rammed through their $2 trillion partisan “COVID” relief bill to extend enhanced unemployment benefits, Oklahoma employers told me over and over that they needed more workers “now” in order to reopen their businesses fully. But instead the government became the biggest competition. It is hard to encourage people to work when they can make just as much staying home and getting a government check. Small businesses in Oklahoma struggled to hire workers because they weren’t able to compete with federal handouts. Even though the extra unemployment benefits have ended, some of the other handouts still remain.

Oklahoma has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country; there are jobs open. But, when people can make as much in federal benefits as they can make at work, people will logically stay home.

Rather than promoting the American work ethic, Biden’s massive spending plan tells Americans, “Sit down, your government will take care of you.” His plan has cradle-to-grave government checks, financially penalizes marriage, and promotes the federal government as the real caretaker of your children. That sounds nice until you’re the one living with the consequences of that life. We all know that there is a huge difference between a hand up and a hand out.  

We all want to see the end of poverty in our country. None of us want to see a single child in need. But the solution cannot cause even more problems and dependency. There is a reason that our nation voted to abandon welfare checks without work requirements three decades ago, they hurt more people than they helped. Democrats are now laying the groundwork for even more generational poverty.

Let’s mentor, educate, challenge, encourage, and bless the children of our nation with the optimism and opportunities to rise. Work and service brings purpose and meaning to every person. It allows them to answer the question in their soul, “What do I do?” Work is not punishment; it is honorable. If we are going to help the next generation learn respect, self-worth, and service, we should set the example today of the value of work.

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