COLUMN: Recognize the Dignity of Work

August 15, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Watching the Olympics has been exciting for millions of Americans who root on their fellow citizens to see if years of grueling training will pay off on the world stage. For the athletes who worked to earn gold, silver, and bronze medals, we can imagine a wave of personal fulfillment and pride from representing our country. For the less physically-gifted of us, personal accomplishment will likely not come from an Olympic medal. What makes America unique is not that every one of us can vault or run or swim at impressive speeds, but we hold to the belief that all people are created equal despite the difference in our gifts and talents. Ours is the land of opportunity where every person has the freedom to run their race in pursuit of happiness. We also realize that as Americans, it should not matter where you start. We strive to lift up our neighbors so that every person can know the satisfaction of providing for their family.

In our country today, there are many people who feel left behind. There is a feeling that the American Dream has escaped the reach of too many. Despite government promises that more spending could address economic struggles, no government program has accomplished the goal of ending poverty or giving people a renewed sense of pride, self-worth and dignity. We know that dignity comes from the pride of accomplishment, when individuals are given the opportunity to succeed and prove something to themselves.

Currently, almost 15 percent of Americans live in poverty. That means about 46 million people are struggling to provide for their families. Since the mid-20th century, the war on poverty and the $22 trillion in government spending spent on welfare programs has not succeeded because economic mobility does not come from dependence on a central government.

House Republicans have proposed a “Better Way” to fight poverty and to end the cycle of dependency and hopelessness. We must secure safety nets for the most vulnerable. To ensure the safety net is solvent to the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens, it is fair to expect our work-capable adults (particularly those with no dependents) receiving welfare to work or be preparing for work. By expanding work and work training requirements for those receiving benefits, we give individuals the tools to achieve new opportunities and break the cycle of poverty. We must reward work instead of penalizing it. We must improve education and tailor benefits to people’s needs at the state level instead of through a federal-government-knows-best approach.

My grandmother used to repeat a homespun saying that has stuck with me all these years: “Good, better, best—never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” Americans not only do our best, but we do not leave each other behind. We push ourselves and create opportunity for everyone to do the best with what God has given us, and that way we can all run our race.