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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Wanted—a few hard workers

Has old-fashioned, sweat-of-the-brow labor become an occupation to avoid?

Wanted—a few hard workers


A couple of electrical circuits in the basement of my house were acting up, and the nagging reality hit me: It’s time to call an electrician. No, Joel, I argued with myself, you can do this. It’s an obvious do-it-yourself assignment. But that’s when my visiting brother-in-law settled the matter. “Joel,” he said with finality, “it’s time to call an electrician.”

Which is why, for the third or fourth time in the last couple of months, I ended up getting another mini-lecture on the whys and wherefores of the immigration crisis that’s been shaping and reshaping our nation and culture.

Why, I asked the electrician the next afternoon while he nimbly corrected the problem that had eluded my limited skill set, has it become so hard to find and contract with you fellows in the construction trades? I told him how in the last few months our 60-year-old home had cried out not just for an electrician, but also for the services of a plumber, a brick mason, an excavator, a ceramic tile setter, and a drop ceiling installer. So why, in almost every case, did my conversation with these professionals inevitably turn to a labor market twisted by immigration policies and realities?

No, my wife and I heard. Don’t blame the immigrants. Responsibility, we were told, lies at the doorstep of Americans who don’t like hard work.

Are we ultimately the victims of our own success and prosperity? Have we come to despise hard work?

We got that message repeatedly, simply, and emphatically: Americans just don’t like to work. “I spend half my time,” the owner of one small plumbing firm told me, “looking for people who are ready to help me dig a ditch or crawl under a porch to run a water line. And when I finally do find them, I know it won’t be long before someone else discovers them and can pay them a better wage.”

The lament struck a familiar chord. For several months prior to my electrical issue, I had heard the same six-word complaint from a longtime WORLD member who owns and manages a significant farming operation. “Americans just don’t like to work,” he asserted, and even invited me to come and see for myself what he was talking about. His invitation was an expression of trust—based on my agreement not to identify him, the farm, or any of the laborers I might meet during such a visit. I’m still struggling to provide you readers with a significant report on what I’m learning through that visit to the farm, but without breaking my promise. That column is probably still several issues away.

And oh, yes. That visit to the farm involved an overnight stay. And my wife and I couldn’t help noticing who at the hotel was making our bed, cleaning our room, and waiting on the breakfast tables. Almost to a person, they appeared to be relatively recent immigrants, performing jobs (admittedly, perhaps low-paying ones) that many native-born Americans seem unwilling to do.

But back to my electrician for a related and perhaps even more distressing perspective. “Let me tell you,” he reported, “about a continuing education session I attended recently—something I have to do to keep my license current. I would guess there were about 75 people in the room—all renewing their licenses. What really got my attention was when the fellow in charge asked how many of us were under the age of 40. I think only two fellows raised their hands.”

So what happens when the next generation prospers enough to be able to afford to hire an electrician—only to discover there are no electricians to hire?

Are we ultimately the victims of our own success and prosperity? Have we come to despise the hard work that has pulled millions of Americans, whether native-born or newcomer, out of poverty and dependence?

I wonder, is this what happens to all the descendants of Adam and Eve? Is it part of the Fall? Is part of the price that everyone pays that even good old hard work (do we refer to it as “the sweat of our brow”?) becomes something to be avoided?


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  • Hawkdriver
    Posted: Wed, 01/24/2018 06:24 pm

    This is where hard working Christian young people can truely shine for Christ while earning a good living to support their families.  What a great opportunity for young believers to serve our lost culture than to wire their homes, landscape their yards, dig their ditches all with a smile on their sweaty faces.  Please encourage the young Christians in your lives to consider...pray about... entering the trades.  I am doing the same.  Tech schools are generally much less liberal and focused on the skill they are learning, another plus.

  • GeorgeandKids
    Posted: Thu, 01/25/2018 09:58 am

    My husband and I just purchased and renovated a building built in 1947. Trust me, we were no strangers to hard work, yet the job of renovating this building took hard to a new level. I've never shoveled concrete before, but I did. If there's one thing I can say, as a woman, I would prefer to have an education and use my mind than earn my dollar through the sweat of my brow. Many blessings to those who do choose this path. It is a hard one.

  • AmyM
    Posted: Sat, 01/27/2018 07:37 pm

    great article!  So true!  

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Sun, 01/28/2018 08:40 am

    With the Super Bowl coming up I am reminded of a quote,  "I didn't have the necessary skill set to do useless things for large amounts of money so I was forced to do useful things for much less money.  I have no regrets"  How important are the skills it takes to actually live.  To be involved in an enterprise that actually increases the value of stuff and increases the comfort level of our fellow beings.  Practical work.  Wow!  I think we have forgotten how important it is.  When we get to the point where we judge the value of a person by the amount of money he/she is paid we are missing it.  

  • TWH
    Posted: Mon, 02/05/2018 05:40 pm

    "We got that message repeatedly, simply, and emphatically: Americans just don’t like to [do hard, physical] work."

    I don't understand why this would be surprising. Matthew Henry said it FAR better than I ever could, commenting on Genesis 3:19:  "His [man's] business, before he sinned, was a constant pleasure to him, the garden was then dressed without any uneasy labour, and kept without any uneasy care; but now his labour shall be a weariness and shall waste his body; his care shall be a torment and shall afflict his mind. The curse upon the ground which made it barren, and produced thorns and thistles, made his employment about it much more difficult and toilsome. If Adam had not sinned, he had not sweated. Observe here, [1.] That labour is our duty, which we must faithfully perform; we are bound to work, not as creatures only, but as criminals; it is part of our sentence, which idleness daringly defies. [2.] That uneasiness and weariness with labour are our just punishment, which we must patiently submit to, and not complain of, since they are less than our iniquity deserves."

    When Henry wrote, "labour is our duty, which we must faithfully perform" the enlightenment world hadn't yet decided to try to negate God's pronouncements. The culture supported a work ethic as a practical matter, reinforced by Christian teaching. World Magazine has taught me much in this area, and Marvin Olasky has written books on the subject! 

    The bottom line is that many individuals in a society won't work if some entity (family, state, etc) will take care of them. Those who think this way tend not to have applied themselves during their formative years. They are likely to be less educated and will often have fewer practical skills. First generation immigrants don't naturally enjoy work more! They are simply making the best of their plight, as did earlier Americans, by developing a work ethic as a pillar of the culture. The other side of the equation was emphasized for early Christians ( 2 Thess 3:10). Carrot - adequate resources to live, and societal approval. Stick - deprivation, and societal rejection. Subsequent generations of immigrants quickly become "enlightenment Americans", so a continuance of the current situation would require a never-ending supply of first generation immigrants. 

    Rather than simply lamenting the apparent unwillingness of Americans to work hard, I hope we can move towards dealing with root causes. Let's consider the fact that if there wasn't a ready supply of people willing to do a certain job at a low rate of pay, employers would be forced to raise wages for that work. If the "safety net" was less comfortable, more people would find working on a hog farm in rural Iowa to be a good prospect. Costs would go up. Prices would go up. Lower skilled Americans would find dignity and worth in work. Yes, consumers would howl, but a new economic balance would result, and a side benefit is that there would be far fewer opportunities for abuse of workers who now stay in the shadows.