The Corner

Work and the Democrats

Jeb Bush (disclosure) is under attack from Democrats for saying that “people should work longer hours.” The DNC says the remark shows Bush is “out of touch.” Journalists have been criticizing him too. Ezra Klein had a tweet-storm accusing Bush of the same thing, and adding that he was fetishizing GDP over happiness, and thus undervaluing leisure.

Bush was answering a question about tax reform, and saying that he hoped his policies would lead to higher economic growth, productivity, labor force participation, and hours worked. Later in the day, he explained that he meant that people should have the “opportunity” and the “chance” to work — that, for example, they should be able to find full-time jobs if they are currently working part-time — and that he wasn’t saying that people already working full-time jobs need to find second jobs too. That’s consistent with comments he has made before to the effect that Obamacare creates an incentive for companies to move employees from full-time to part-time work.

Liberals may disagree with Bush’s implicit policy prescriptions on work. But they should not distort what he is saying, which is that government policies should be changed so that they do less to discourage work and more to encourage it. That is not the same as proposing a return of workhouses (or worse). It’s not the same as telling people that their economic problems are the result of their laziness.

In fact, there is widespread and bipartisan interest in raising the number of hours worked. Hillary Clinton has said that it might be a good idea to modify Obamacare so that it does not reduce full-time employment. The Obama administration has proposed a second-earner credit and an increase in child-care subsidies in part to encourage participation in the paid labor force. Liberal policy experts have other proposals along those lines. And expanding the earned income tax credit, in part to encourage work, also has bipartisan support.

Democrats and journalists who attack Bush over this comment are distorting his comments out of misunderstanding or bad faith. Alternatively, they’re repudiating a long bipartisan tradition of concern about breaking down barriers to work — a tradition that, I suspect, still has strong public support.

Update: The Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the way, reports that around 6.8 million Americans are working part-time “for an economic reason such as slack work or unfavorable business conditions, inability to find full-time work, or seasonal declines in demand.”


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