Much of our country’s simmering dialogue on immigration sooner or later turns to the question of hiring people to perform certain "jobs Americans won’t do."
Rarely, however, do policymakers address why Americans apparently refuse to do certain jobs while immigrants go to great trouble and expense to come here to perform those very jobs.
Many of the jobs now commonly performed by immigrants were once filled either by students or by adults who saw work as noble and idleness as shameful.
Today, our relative prosperity and appetite for instant gratification is becoming our enemy.
In my hometown, summer or after-school jobs were once prized by high school and college students. Kids knew they could make good money during a summer of hard work with a farmer or a contractor. During the school year, service industry jobs helped pay for dates and gasoline while accommodating classes and school activities.
Now, far fewer students seem to want — or need — jobs that demand responsibility and hard work.
"Help wanted" signs are permanent fixtures at restaurants; others have closed or scaled back their hours because they just can’t find good help.
Farmers rely more on immigrants because they can count on them to be on time and work long hours when harvest or planting schedules require it.
A Western Slope fruit grower recently told me that several orchard owners solicited summer help at area high schools, offering $20 an hour to students who would help pick fruit. Not a single student took them up on the offer.
A contractor related a similar story of able-bodied young people. When offered a job, he said, "They look at mom and dad like, ‘Do I have to work?’"
Therein lies the problem. Kids haven’t changed that much. When I was in high school, I probably wouldn’t have worked in the summer if my parents had provided me with a car, clothes and spending money.
My father, however, knew a teachable moment when he saw it. After I turned 16, I had enough money saved to buy a car, but he refused to let me take that money out of savings until I also had a summer job.
American parents want their kids to be better off than they were. But it seems that too many simply want to wave a magic wand to bestow happiness and success on their offspring, rather than teach them life’s inevitable lessons.
It shouldn’t surprise us then that so many young people wrongly believe that what we once called "entry-level jobs" are beneath them.
Adults who spurn those same jobs do so for the same reason: because they can afford to.
For a family of four, the poverty level is $20,650. But as recently as 2004, that same family’s annual consumption averaged $40,000 — thanks to welfare payments, tax credits, food stamps, housing assistance and unreported income.
That’s better than the take-home pay, benefits or working conditions for a job that pays $20 an hour but demands hard work. What’s more, subsidized sloth offers far more leisure time than a 40-hour-a-week job.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Heritage Foundation, 46 percent of all "poor" households own their own home with three bedrooms and a garage. Poor Americans, on average, have more living space than the average citizen of Paris or London.
The primary nutrition problem for poor children isn’t malnutrition but obesity. Three-quarters of poor families own a car; 30 percent own at least two. Ninety-seven percent own color TVs; most have cable and a VCR or DVD player.
Just as kids make a rational decision not to work when their parents meet their every need, so do adults who know they can count on government to supply their needs at taxpayers’ expense.
No wonder there are so many "jobs Americans won’t do." Our shortsighted generosity and "compassion" are causing depriving many of the lessons that lead to lasting success.