With unemployment a constant concern in our struggling economy, one might expect job seekers to cherish almost any opportunity. Maybe it's not a dream job, but it will put food on the table until one comes along.
That's the old way, when few were beneath an opportunity to dig a ditch or wash dishes to get by. In the new America, parents, governments and "the rich" are expected to provide food, shelter, clothing and health care for those who will work if they feel like it.
The Associated Press painted a picture in a story that ran in the business section of The Gazette on Thursday, explaining a phenomenon in which "many potential employees don't follow directions on job postings, are no-shows at interviews and sometimes accept a job only to say at the last minute they're going to work for somebody else."
Human resources consultants report it's a dilemma across the age spectrum and pay scale, though mostly among young adults.
People who live on unemployment benefits are required to document an effort to find work. Many genuinely would work if given the chance. But a substantial portion goes through the motions with no desire to actually take a job. Just ask Brian Schutt, who owns a company called Homesense Heating and recently advertised for an administrative position. He received 300 applications, narrowed the field and expected to meet with a dozen hand-picked finalists. Only one arrived for the interview.
"They just want to play and have fun and smoke," Schutt told the AP, explaining the work ethic of 20-somethings.
A Chicago-based employment agency told the AP of an example in which only half of those chosen showed up for scheduled job interviews.
The AP cited a survey by St. Louis Community College that found 56 percent of employers believe applicants in general have poor work ethics. Another survey, by the Seattle Jobs Initiative, found 35 percent of employers find applicants for entry-level positions unreliable.
None of this should come as a surprise. The reason to show up and do a nonglamorous job has traditionally been the need for food, shelter, clothing and health care. It was a powerful incentive and it made this country great. Most who despised scrubbing toilets and mopping floors eventually found their way to better work.
But government and culture have changed. A 2013 study by Pew Research found a record 36 percent of Americans ages 18 to 36 live with their parents - a total of 21.6 million adults dependent on mom and dad.
Sure, the job market is tough. Rents are high and wages low. Easy access to student loans has driven education costs through the roof and left graduates with debts of $50,000 or more before they've earned a dime.
But the federal government has created disincentives to work. Congress and the president seem to think unemployment benefits should never run out. Americans on disability income nearly doubled from 5 million to 8.8 million between 2000 and 2012. The Congressional Budget Office reported in February that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would reduce full-time employment in the United States by 2.5 million workers by 2024. They will choose to leave jobs to qualify for free health care, the report explained. The White House applauded the finding, saying none would be stuck in their jobs.
A culture that increasingly chooses not to work is one destined for economic decline. Perhaps it's time we restore those hard incentives that had Americans picking up shovels and going to work.