Jeb Bush, in a concise summation of the mythical bootstraps ethos, told reporters at New Hampshire’s Union Leader that Americans need to work longer hours—despite the fact that Americans already work longer hours than citizens in any other industrialized nation. The hopeful future President of a country dealing with a temporary nadir of workplace participation just thinks it’s up to you to fix your own goddamn problems.
“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”
The “rut” Bush refers to is the historically low workforce participation rate, which has hovered at 62.8% for over a year—the lowest in 37 years. But analysts attribute this rate not to lack of job opportunities (the unemployment rate has steadily declined under the Obama Administration) or even more reliance of working-age people on government programs like welfare. No, the low labor participation rate is mainly due to baby boomers edging out of the workforce as they age into retirement. Americans aren’t slacking off, they’re getting older. From US News & World Report:
Aging baby boomers, those Americans born between 1946 and 1964, account for approximately half of the drop in the labor force participation rate since 2007, according to a report released Thursday from the White House Council of Economic Advisers. The remaining decline stems from “cyclical factors” fairly typical of historic economic recessions and more difficult-to-explain “residual factors” from the crisis.
The participate rate, which is the portion of adults employed or looking for a job, is “one of the most puzzling and for many people [most] misunderstood parts of the labor market,” according to Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and a co-author of the report. At 62.8 percent, it is the lowest it’s been since 1978 and has fallen 3.1 percentage points since 2007, a year before the oldest baby boomers turned 62 and become eligible for early Social Security benefits. Baby boomers’ retiring accounts for about 1.6 percentage points of the fall.
The Social Security Administration expects that one-fourth of the overall population age will be at or near retirement by 2029, decreasing the labor participation rate by default.
Meanwhile, those Americans who do work do so at a much higher rate than countries like Japan, England and France. According to the International Labour Organization, Americans work the equivalent of two extra weeks compared to those countries. To top it off, much of the US workforce isn’t even being counted—that sector comprised of undocumented workers, who work more service, construction, and other manual labor jobs than US citizens.
Jeb Bush, of course, almost immediately backtracked his statements once he started taking hits, saying he was actually talking about people who are underemployed. “I think people want to work harder,” he told Dover’s News 9, “to be able to have more money in their own pockets — not to be dependent upon government. You can take it out of context all you want, but high, sustained growth means people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours, and that by our success they have money—disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line.”
Though no one really did take his comments out of context—you can see most of the video here—it’s remarkable how closely his “clarification” mirrors the rhetoric of several archaic and proven-wrong presidents before him, most particularly Reagan, who believed and calcified the rigid idea that America was a “welfare state,” with the laziest of our citizens depending on the government for handouts rather than work. That was, of course, one of the most racist of Reagan’s litany of racist policies, and a belief that ultimately led to increased poverty and homelessness across America from which we’re still trying to recover.
While it’s not surprising that Bush would follow neoconservative ideologies—he’s freaking Jeb Bush—what is most disconcerting is that, among the cluttered landscape of trash-can Republican Presidential nominees, he’s easily one of the most moderate, espousing looser views on topics like immigration and mostly eschewing the batshit delusions of his peers. And when Jeb Bush seems tolerable just because he’s producing garbage conservative arguments that you can at least conceptualize and take down with logic, you know you’re ‘tween a rock and a hard place. That’s when you do what you gotta do and saw off your own arm.
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