...And Economic Justice for All: Welfare Reform for the 21st Century

By Michael L. Murray | Go to book overview
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Work Song, The Methodist Hymnal ( Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1939), p. 293, Verse 2.
"Work has turned into a modern religion for us and it costs us dearly. You can't conceive of a world without work, but work has expanded into our lives, damaging the family, our communities, which we no longer have time for." Deborah Wiley, "Humanizing the 'Modern Religion,'" Des Moines Register, April 3, 1995, p. 1A.
On the other hand, Bryant Gumbel, on the NBC Today Show, quoted a "wise man" who said: "If work is so good, why do people pay you to do it?"
I had to look this up to make sure it was the word I wanted. It translates as a "black beast" or a "bugbear"; my dictionary says a bugbear is "something that causes needless fear."
In the 1996 congressional debate over welfare reform, it was common for Republicans to emphasize that the work requirements included in the bill were designed to be of benefit to the poor, in that the requirements would make it more likely that poor people would work, and they would thus feel better about themselves.
Thomas Sowell makes the point that even the rich "work," so that we shouldn't try to distinguish between "the rich" and "the working people." The Rich Are Working People, Des Moines Register, April 18, 1995, p. 9A.
One formulation of the concept of work was provided by Lutz and Lux in The Challenge of Humanistic Economy. They first cite two definitions of work used in James O'Toole (ed.), Work in America ( Boston: MIT Press, 1973): ( 1) employment for pay; (2) an activity that produces something of value. Lutz and Lux say these represent two necessities: (1) to stay alive; (2) to actualize our human potential. They would like to see us eliminate as much as possible the first necessity, thus enhancing our freedom. But, they say, we should not eliminate the second. They go on to point out "first and foremost, as a necessary criterion of social welfare, the basic physiological needs will have to be satisfied for every citizen."Ibid., p. 170. This is in keeping with the spirit of a guaranteed adequate income.
Those applying our unemployment compensation laws have had to wrestle with this question over the years. Generally, teachers cannot collect unemployment benefits during the summer if they have a contract for the following year.


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