23 Financial Reasons Americans Don’t Want to Work




Restaurants, hotels, retailers, trucking companies, and so many other businesses are desperate for workers. Many have doubled starting pay from only a few years ago, yet they still can’t find staff. Despite all the job openings & pay increases, a significant percentage of Americans are working fewer hours, some none at all. So, what gives?

While there are many reasons for the labor shortage, probably the biggest reason is that we have a tax & benefit system that punishes working and incentivizes NOT working. In other words, it’s not simply laziness. There are financial tradeoffs people make. When the effective take-home pay of working additional hours is insignificant, why do it? In our ass-backwards welfare/benefit/tax system, you could even lose money by working more.

Government benefits are almost always means-tested. As your income increases, your eligibility can be phased out or eliminated altogether. Conversely, our tax system increases rates and phases out deductions & credits as you earn more. So, many Americans walk a fine line between the two. For example, people may gladly work a $25/hour job, but if it earns them too much, they may lose the earned income tax credit or make them ineligible for Obamacare. Thus, their effective take-home pay may be less than half of the $25, and that doesn’t even cover the cost of a babysitter. On the other hand, for the upper income workers, the ever increasing tax brackets take away their incentive to work full-time or overtime. A plumber may make $60/hour, but if he gets into a high enough tax bracket, that may drop to $30/hour. If he has his own business, it could even drop to $20/hour. So, he may decide to stop at 30-40 hours per week, whereas he might be willing and able to work 50-60 hours if his marginal pay didn’t plummet. In totality, that means less plumber availability. See where all this is going?

Here’s a partial list of the benefits that are reduced or eliminated as you earn more:

  1. Federal health benefits (Medicaid, Obamacare subsidies, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare premium subsidies)
  2. State health care benefits
  3. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), EBT, food stamps
  4. Student loan “forgiveness”
  5. College financial aid (grants, scholarships, subsidized loans, etc.)
  6. Public & low-income housing
  7. Job training & continuing education assistance
  8. Miscellaneous subsidized loan programs (housing, business startup, credit repayment plans, etc.)
  9. Subsidized legal services
  10. Local school tuition, supplies, and hot lunch assistance
  11. Daycare & babysitting subsidies
  12. Federal & state energy/heating assistance
  13. Social security benefits started before full-retirement age

Here’s a partial list of tax-related items where your effective tax rate increases as you meet certain income thresholds (either through higher brackets or phased-out deductions & credits):

  1. Federal, state, local, Obamacare surcharge tax rate brackets
  2. Earned Income Tax Credit
  3. Child Tax Credit
  4. Retirement Savings Contribution Credit
  5. American Opportunity Tax Credit
  6. Lifelong Learning Tax Credit
  7. Social Security income subject to tax
  8. Student loan interest deduction
  9. Eligibility to contribute to Roth & other tax-free or tax-deferred accounts
  10. Adoption Tax Credit

Visit state & federal benefit websites. Talk to a tax advisor. Both lists go on and on. These are only government-related items. We could add in many income-tested private charity benefits, and unfortunately, there’s a large segment of society that unscrupulously milks every dollar they can from benefits meant for the needy. However, as you see, even hard-working, honorable people can look at the lists above and conclude it just doesn’t make sense to work more, if at all. A lot of middle class Americans may shake their heads in disgust but believe this system doesn’t really affect them much, but remember: by far the biggest component of costs in the vast majority of goods & services is labor. Lack of workers means more than just poor service & longer wait times. It means higher wages & forced automation, all of which cascade to exploding consumer price inflation. Anyone notice any of that lately? 🤔

Perhaps the most fundamental concept of human behavior is a term used in psychology called operant conditioning, which essentially says that behavior that is rewarded tends to increase in frequency, while behavior that is punished tends to diminish. Of course, you don’t need a course in psychology to understand common sense…at least those outside of government & politics don’t. But politicians haven’t figured out the incredibly complex concept of [Expenses – Revenues = Deficit], so why should we expect anything else? 🙄

Much of our tax/benefit system was created with the best of intentions. Almost all of us want to help the poor & needy. And yes, richer Americans can no doubt afford to pay more. These concepts sound especially good on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, human beings will always adjust their behavior. There will always be unintended consequences. Despite the obvious failures, leftist politicians are only doubling-down with more “freebies” and punishment of hard work & success. To fix the problem, we need to do a complete 180-degree turn. Reward work, investment, and success. And as for government benefits & charity, EVERYTHING should be time-limited and capped. In other words, a hand-up, not a hand-out.


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Written by: Joe Messerli
Last Modified: 06/06/2024

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