Last week, the Biden administration received just the latest slap in the face from cruel reality: An economic report showing just 194,000 jobs added in the month of September, short of the 500,000 jobs forecast by most economists. The unemployment rate dived to 4.8% from 5.2% -- not as a result of job gains, but as a result of more and more Americans dumping out of the work force. Meanwhile, inflation continued to pick up steam, with domestic labor shortages exacerbating supply-chain bottlenecks.
How should we explain the bizarre spectacle of a nation that should be booming stagnating instead?
For the Biden team, the answers range from the completely idiotic (lack of government stimulus, after the greatest single spending binge in world history) to the merely foolish (the delta variant, caseload from which has taken a nosedive). The actual answer, however, is simple: We have spent a year training Americans to believe that work is alternately unsafe, unavailable or unnecessary.
First, we have trained vaccinated Americans to believe that they are unsafe. According to a CBS News poll in July, just 48% of those who were unvaccinated said they were worried about infection from the delta variant, compared with 72% of fully vaccinated Americans -- this despite the fact that vaccinated Americans are rarely hospitalized and nearly never die from COVID-19. Yet Biden himself continues to trot out the lie that the vaccinated are not safe from the unvaccinated: In early September, he pushed for a national workplace vaccine mandate, claiming that it was necessary in order to "protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers." But that's precisely what the vaccine was for. It's no surprise, then, that so many vaccinated people -- the first people who should be eager to reenter workplaces -- are instead hesitant to go back to the office.
Second, we have barred the unvaccinated from going back to work. Biden suggested that vaccine mandates would heighten employment by making the vaccinated feel safe. But that obviously hasn't worked: Instead, all he's done is take jobs from those who were always willing to go back to work. Thousands of Americans have been laid off thanks to vaccine mandates, including in crucial industries like health care and air travel.
Most importantly, we have trained Americans to believe that work is unnecessary. As jobs go unfilled, a certain contingent of politicians celebrates -- they say that workers have been unchained from their jobs, and that this is a net positive. In August 2020, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told Vice, "Only in America, when the president tweets about liberation, does he mean 'go back to work' ... I think a lot of people should just say no. We're not going back to work." Paying people to stay home, in this view, is merely incentivizing businesses to pay more for fewer hours, thus making life better for those who choose to work; for everyone else, the government dole.
Now, most Americans have rejected this last lesson. Most Americans want to work; most Americans are in fact working. Hence the unpopularity of the Biden administration spending plans, which most Americans feel artificially suppress economic growth and stifle opportunity. But Biden and Democrats are counting on the long-term play: grow government, breed dependence and ultimately shift the relationship between Americans and the government.
Biden promised he wouldn't shut down the economy or the country -- he'd shut down the virus. Instead, thanks to his progressive priorities, he's made the pandemic a problem with no logical endpoint in sight, shutting down the economy and the country in the process -- all in pursuit of his transformational vision. The current labor shortage is a feature of the plan, not a bug. But Biden didn't promise transformation in the 2020 race -- he promised a return to normalcy. And so, his approval ratings are cratering. As they ought to.
Ben Shapiro is a nationally syndicated columnist whose work appears regularly in the Grand Forks Herald.