Judging from the shoppers clogging the retail stores here on Friday, the economy is healthy and robust. Judging the dialogue from the television networks, the economy is miserable and on the verge of collapse. So who's right?
I'll admit that I'm confounded by the mixed messages on the state of our economy. Maybe this is the best of times and the worst of times. It all depends on who is delivering the message. But this much I know - for those willing to work and for those responsible enough to make good decisions, the economy is indeed strong and vibrant. For those unwilling to work and for those companies unwilling to make the tough decisions, these times can be trying.
The state of Missouri is about to borrow money from the federal government to pay unemployment claims. We're not alone of course. Several states already borrowed from a special government fund to bolster unemployment claims. But at the same time, this newspaper and virtually every newspaper in the state runs thousands of help wanted ads on a daily basis. In other words, the jobs are available for those willing to work or train or sacrifice. Which brings us to the segment of the population that will not make those sacrifices.
As a society, we make it far too easy for far too many to enjoy the benefits without making the sacrifice or effort to fend for themselves. There must be a balance between compassion and common sense and, in my opinion, we have yet to reach that balance. In fact, the statistics would indicate we are going in the wrong direction toward encouraging people to bear their fair share of the load. And this approach will cost us much more than money alone.
Being chronically unemployed has become a lifestyle for a growing segment of our population. I call them unemployed by choice. They have figured the system out and realize that they benefit personally more from not working than they would from finding a job. For many of us - and I count myself among this group - that notion is foreign and repugnant. Working people will always fund the services for those who do not work. The question revolves around the numbers. Just how many chronically unemployed can a working population support? We're about to find out that answer.
The talking heads of network television are wrong - the economy is as strong as you make it. There are jobs and opportunities for everyone willing to take that first step toward self-sufficiency. But the alarm bell is ringing and no one is answering. That bell is signaling the concern over the growing masses of people who willingly sit on the sidelines of society and allow the majority of the population to provide their every need.
The day will come when we realize that this population must change their approach and join society. They must generate a paycheck that can be used to buy goods and services just like everyone else. At that point, there will be no discussion about the economy because more people will be pulling the wagon and less people will expect a free ride. We may never reach that point. But we must try.