WITH ALL THE talk of the fiscal cliff facing America, kudos to Gary Alexander, Pennsylvania's secretary of public welfare, for getting a national conversation started about what he calls the "welfare cliff." The welfare cliff's effects can be seen when, for example, a single mom with two kids decides it's more financially sound to stay at a low-paying job rather than work toward a higher-paying position and lose government benefits. Alexander laid out in graphic form the concept that the single mom is better off staying at $29,000 per year, rather than accepting a job for $57,000 per year.
What kind of message does that send to the kids of the mom, who learn the strategy is to earn just enough to maximize taxpayer benefits? This certainly is a new and perverted form of the American dream.
Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist, recently wrote about families in the Appalachian hill country pulling their kids out of literacy classes, because if they learn to read and write, the parents are likely to lose their monthly checks from the Supplemental Security Income program for kids with intellectual disabilities. He quotes a local school district official, who says, "The greatest challenge we face as educators is how to break that dependency on government. In second grade, they have a dream. In seventh grade, they have a plan."
These corrosive entitlement stories jump out at you because they are almost hard to believe. What about the more subtle messages that kids are getting that undercut achievement and striving?
What about the phony self-esteem wave that rolled out of California over the last 20 years and resulted in youth sports in which no scores are kept and everyone gets a trophy? There was the movement to eliminate the use of red pens by teachers because some educrats thought the color red was too harsh and could affect a child's self-esteem. And the growing use of social promotion, despite the fact that failing students are ill-equipped academically to move to the next grade.
This silly, 20-year movement has given us too many kids who feel a real sense of entitlement. The Wall Street Journal and other publications have written about the Millennial Generation, those born between 1980 and 2001, and say they have been so coddled by their parents that they are indeed the trophy kids. Doting parents, teachers and coaches have lavished praise on these kids sometimes for just showing up.
The Journal interviewed a number of employers and managers, and they almost universally say these kids arrive in the workplace with more expectations on the company or corporation than any generation before them. Their mind-set is summarized by a CareerBuilder.com survey of managers and human-resource executives, 85 percent of whom say Millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers.
Colleges are a big culprit. Colleges are only too willing to engage in filling their coffers with students who are graduating with degrees that do not give them a reasonable shot for a good job in this very bad economy. How many art history and sociology majors can we turn out that are frustrated in finding viable jobs?
I think this frustration and sense of entitlement lead to the self-indulgent and self-absorbed Occupy movement. My first on-air conversation with the fledgling Philadelphia Occupy movement centered on an art-history major's frustration at her inability to get a job in her field and her belief that the system was rigged to prevent people like her from finding happiness.
Perhaps she would have been served to research the job market for art-history majors and realistically determine the opportunities and salaries in that field. In the business world, companies devote a lot of time to market research. They make decisions on what products or services to make based on if market demand exists for that product or service. I have never heard of a company say it is entitled to a profitable audience of customers buying what it wants to sell.
It will take a lot to puncture and roll back this sense of entitlement that has gripped Millennials and chart a new course for future generations of kids. We can start by making sure that we are not spending taxpayer money to send kids the message that scheming the system is the way to make it in America. We should also tackle the misguided self-esteem movement that covers kids in bubble wrap and leaves them woefully unprepared for the harsh challenges of the real world.
And for our own sanity, let's push back against those who repeatedly tell us what they're entitled to. As Americans, we are guaranteed equality under the law, but we are not guaranteed equal results.