While 50 years ago the federal government declared war on poverty, I would submit that in recent years it has led an undeclared but real new war: a War on Work. The government increasingly is using its coercive powers to punish people who want to work, creating a vast class of able-bodied Americans dependent on the government — and politicians — for their daily bread.
The statistics are startling. A smaller proportion of working-age Americans works today than when the recession officially ended 4-1/2 years ago (June 2009).
But this trend is not just a failure of policies to encourage economic recovery, such as the stimulus package and the ineffective, highly expansionary Federal Reserve monetary policy. The decline in work has been going on since at least 2000, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Suppose today we had the same proportion of Americans working that we did in 2000 — the end of the Clinton administration. We would have 14.6 million more workers in America — 4 million more than the number of unemployed.
Making reasonable assumptions about the productivity of these lost workers, the annual national output today would be over $2,500 per person higher — over $10,000 for a family of four. The actual recent recorded decline in real median income per household almost certainly would not have occurred. Much of the 21st-century growth dearth — the fall in growth rates from above 3% to only 2% a year — would have been averted.
While a vast number of government policies cause a decline in work, let me mention just six: