Hard-working Americans

WPAWhen U.S. politicians talk about “hard-working Americans” instead of “Americans,” who are they describing? Americans with jobs? Americans with difficult jobs? Americans with jobs that don’t pay much? Americans who like to think of themselves as hard workers?

When politicians as diverse as Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and John Boehner address the concerns of “hard-working Americans,” are they also suggesting there are Americans who aren’t working all that hard? If so, who are these other Americans? Who are these slackers, parasites, paper shufflers, goldbricks, layabouts and goof-offs?

Most Americans like to think of themselves as hard workers —  that is, productive, self-reliant members of society. Folks who deserve what they earn, and then some. It’s clever to appeal to them, but are they really hard workers?

Consider this:  The civilian labor force – individuals age 16 or older, not in the military, not institutionalized – totals 247.4 million. Of that number, 145.6 million are employed –  26.3 million of them work part-time. In other words —  and for whatever reasons — less than half of the working-age civilian population has full-time employment.

That doesn’t mean the rest of the population isn’t working —  or working hard. Raising kids, for example, is work. Learning is work. Surviving poverty is work.

Conversely, having a job doesn’t mean one is working efficiently and all the time. Studies show people tend to exaggerate their work hours. And even the best workers shift to neutral periodically or even slip into reverse. Nor is every job as difficult as mining coal or driving a truck.

But context offers some clarity about what politicians really mean

when they talk about “hard-working Americans.”

A recent sampling:

Rep. Marsha Blackburn: “Rather than admit he is wrong and repeal his destructive healthcare law, the President continues to offer relief to select political friends and companies. He remains unwilling to provide that same relief for all hard-working Americans and their families. It is simply not fair that big banks or businesses don’t have to comply with Obamacare this year, but if you are a single mom in Tennessee trying to make ends meet there’s no exemption —  and you get taxed.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: “This legislation is really important, not only giving a raise to individuals, but it would give a raise to 25 million hard-working Americans. It would lift four and a half million Americans out of poverty, put more money in the pocket of consumers and generate $22 billion in new economic activity. Its money that would be spent immediately for necessities injecting demand into the economy creating jobs, $22 billion in new economic activity. And the Republicans had said no.”

Sarah Palin: “There are a lot of good, hard-working Americans who have more common sense in their pinkie finger than a lot of those Ivy League pieces of paper up on a wall that represent some elitism. Not all of the time does a college degree matter.”

Joe Biden: “That means people can’t vote after church; it means hard-working Americans have to take time off from work to be able to vote. It’s time to stand up and to fight back.”

Sen. Bill Nelson:  “The most conservative justices on our nation’s High Court have once again sided not with hard-working Americans but this time with the wealthiest of political contributors.”

Some older examples:

Hillary Clinton (2008):  “Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

John Boehner (2007): “Families need tax relief, not a tax hike, and Democrats should carefully consider the impact of confiscating more tax dollars from hard-working Americans. Raising taxes won’t help balance the budget, it will simply punish working families and endanger a strong economy that is creating the jobs of today and tomorrow.” 

Ronald Reagan (1980): “This election is going to determine what kind of country Andrea Baden and millions of other American children are going to grow up in. Will it be a country in which everything keeps on going up in price, and jobs are harder to find and keep? Or will it be a country where, because of our efforts, beginning in January of 1981, savings will mean something, prices will be stable, and there will be jobs for people who want to work? I would like very much to do something about that lack of fairness to hard-working Americans and, Andrea, to thrifty Americans like you.”

Defense lawyer Michael Schlosser, defending Nazis and Klansmen charged with murder (1980): “They are essentially loyal, hard-working Americans who love their country and its flag.”

Richard Nixon (1971): “It is not surprising that so many hard-working Americans are wondering: What’s happening to the work ethic in America today? What’s happening to the willingness for self-sacrifice that enabled us to build a great nation, to the moral code that made self-reliance a part of the American character, to the competitive spirit that made it possible for us to lead the world?”

The “hard-working American” is loyal, patriotic, thrifty, religious, and in one unfortunate slip by Hillary Clinton, likely white.  And he has been getting the short end of the stick from big government, banks and business, Democrats or Republicans, and college-educated elites for a long, long time.

An amalgam of virtues in an authoritarian society; a repository of resentments.