The power of work and American values

Published 6:28 pm Saturday, September 5, 2015

When I was a boy in Chesapeake, I often worked odd jobs during the summer, even if it was mowing a neighbor’s lawn, whitewashing fences or earning coins by collecting and recycling Coke bottles tossed along the roadside.

My parents encouraged it. They said they wanted me to learn how to be a good citizen (although I suspect they also wanted me to do something other than play baseball and sit on the front porch playing Parcheesi with friends). My summer jobs eventually taught me to value hard work and rest.

This weekend signals the final days of summer. The whole nation seems to take a pause before a new season of work, the return of school schedules and shorter days. I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of work.


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As I traveled across the Fourth District this month, I shook hands with many business owners and I listened to dedicated employees. I spoke with hardworking parents raising their children. I talked with leaders of congregations and classrooms.

We work to earn money, but work is about so much more than a paycheck. To work is to give a part of yourself to a mission. If you work on an assembly line, it’s toward the mission of building a product. If you run a business, it’s toward the mission of your industry or your customers.

Even if you don’t particularly like your job, earning the paycheck gives you the satisfaction of supporting something bigger. A family. A home. A cause. A dream for something different.

Work is a silver thread throughout the American character. Throughout history, individual Americans have helped our nation burst through economic sluggishness. Contrary to what many leaders in Washington believe today, it is not the government that powers America. It is the individual.

One job feeds a family. One job helps build the next school.  One invention brings the next medical breakthrough. One new employee adds to the growth of the company. It’s the power of one, but it’s the collective power of the American workforce that drives America to greatness.

I am an optimist. I believe in the greatness of America, and I believe our greatest days are ahead of us. But I am impatient. I am restless to leave our kids and grandkids an America as great as the one in which I was blessed to grow up. I’m eager to return to a government that empowers Americans, not Uncle Sam, and therefore stretches the reach of our economy.

Some commonsense reforms can return us to a work ethic that empowers the individual, thrives on American responsibility, and shrinks the size of the federal government: a zero-tolerance policy for government waste and excessive spending, scrapping the current tax code and starting over, balancing the budget, preventing Americans from being taxed twice,  and making it easier for businesses to invest  and grow.

These are just a few policies we can enact today; they are things I’m fighting for every day. If you have ideas, I want to hear them too. I encourage you to join the conversation on my Facebook page Our collective efforts will help put the power back with the individual.

Regarding Labor Day, Ronald Reagan once shared: “I would match the American worker against any in the world. The people whose labor fuels our industry and economy are among the most productive anywhere.… Let us tap into that well of human spirit.… Our destiny is not our fate; it is our choice.”

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at