Money Can’t Replace Meaning and Purpose

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American poverty

Work has intrinsic value

Last month, I had the honor of participating in the Heritage Foundation’s annual Antipoverty Forum, where scholars and practitioners discussed the state of poverty in the country and the local efforts to confront the issue.

The discussion this year centered on the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better (BBB) bill that is now making its way through Congress and the ways in which the bill would undermine work by using much of its $2.4 trillion to expand safety net benefits and create new entitlements, all while eliminating work requirements.

Despite unemployment numbers dropping nearly to pre-pandemic lows in most states, what is not widely understood is that labor force participation (the number of people who are able to work and are actively looking for work) is much lower than when the pandemic began. Some 4-5 million people have effectively dropped out of the workforce – at least for now – despite record job openings (10.4 million in September).

While the drop in workforce numbers is partially explained by fear of COVID and mothers forced to stay home with children, much of it can only be explained as being caused by increased benefits (and the elimination of many requirements for qualifying), rescue-related payments and, now, monthly child tax credit payments. The BBB bill is very likely to make these trends and others, like inflation, worse.

Although we’re concerned that people are choosing not to work and agree that more money coming from Washington, DC, will make matters worse, my remarks reflected our concern at GCO about why worklessness harms the individual. Work is not merely about earning money; it has intrinsic value.


The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Championing a return to normalcy and healthy social interaction

Work provides each of us with an outlet for our God-given talents and creativity. It allows us to serve others and contribute to other individuals’ well-being in exchange for having our own needs met. More than that, it provides us with social capital and a network of colleagues and friends who can help us when we need it. Much research has also shown that worklessness leads to poor mental and physical health and can contribute to increased drug and alcohol abuse – the 100,000+ overdose deaths during the pandemic representing the latest example.

As our government wrestles with how to deal with the pandemic and sets its priorities, it should avoid anything that discourages employment and causes more isolation. For individual and societal health on every front, the government should be championing a return to normalcy and healthy social interaction – including at work – that allows the American people to be resilient during times of crisis.

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