Opinion: Hard luck and hard times, or hard work?

  • Article by: TERRY LARKIN
  • Updated: November 25, 2011 - 7:09 AM

Finding a job is less about a person's level of education and more about his or her character.

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I fear that the biggest risk threatening America's exceptional character is that more Americans would rather complain about the lack of job than go find one.

If you regard this as blasphemy, then tell me how a nation with more than 14 million people not working can have one single illegal immigrant fixing a roof , mowing a lawn, cutting a hog, washing a dish or changing a nursing home bed?

Some perspective is helpful to understand my fear about America's declining character.

During the height of the Great Depression, each of my parents left their respective Minnesota farms because the farm couldn't afford to feed them. My father took his eighth-grade education all the way to the 220-mile Colorado River aqueduct project.

While the better-paid digging crew jobs were filled, jobs were available to feed the 30,000 workers through a portable field kitchen. My father worked that backbreaking, 4 a.m.-to-11 p.m. job for two years, eventually saving enough money to return to Minnesota and start a business.

My mother, with a high school education, got a room in a boarding house in town. She took one job as a waitress, another as a store clerk and a third selling cosmetics door-to-door on straight commission. When she and my father married, he taught her how to cook while she withdrew from her savings the final $500 they needed to open the family business in 1938.

Forty years later I came home from a very active role in the Vietnam War battle known as the Tet Offensive. Naturally, I thought I had earned a vacation. My Depression-hardened mother had other ideas. After her fourth day of coming home from work and still finding me doing nothing, she said, "Well bum, how was your day?"

"OK, OK," I replied, "I will go get a job!"

She said: "That would be terrific. Now let's have some supper."

So with that personal history let's work through the following questions together and you decide if you too think America's character is at risk.

Roofs, restaurants and rose bushes: I'm not faulting the illegal immigrant for showing up to work. The 80-acre Larkin farm was procured from the sweat of immigrant great-grandfather Larkin who was brought here to build James J. Hill's railroad. I am faulting the 14 million unemployed Americans who daily walk past the roof, restaurant and rose-bush jobs.

Unemployment insurance:The U.S. Department of Labor issued a report that said unemployment insurance is a disincentive to seek new work. And yet, the only successful "jobs programs" presented by the Obama administration have been to borrow more money and extend unemployment benefits. I see Americans' desire to work being slowly euthanized with larger and longer unemployment benefits.

Unskilled labor: Would any out-of-work Americans take these jobs? In the 1970s, I taught defensive driving to big-city cab drivers. They were diversity squared, trying to feed families with these jobs. Properly driving a cab is hard work and it was once the source of income for many an American "in between opportunities." Not so any more.

Military careers: I just sat through another college graduation ceremony. Out of several hundred graduates that day, only three were on their way to officer candidate school, where they will be paid to learn about leadership and commitment. Meanwhile, most of their classmates will be moving back home to complain about their student loans.

Shifting careers: Millions of new customers are overwhelming the already-understaffed U.S. health care delivery system. Yet foreign-born workers are necessary to fill the open slots. Why? Analysts report that the health care industry's   24/7 staffing needs, coupled with  its never-ending pressure on support staff labor costs, are leading Americans to conclude -- "not for me."

My parents were almost penniless when they were booted off their family farms. And yet, in the middle of the Great Depression, they thrived through work. America will again thrive and be great when each of us, and especially the Occupy Wall Street protester seen carrying the sign, "One more MBA without a job," understands that successfully finding work is less about a person's education level and more about a person's character.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Terry Larkin is a 40-year veteran of the Twin Cities corporate risk and insurance industry. He consults with family owned companies on improving profits by limiting risks. His e-mail is tlceis@aol.com.

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