What's wrong with work?

Why can't people collecting public assistance offer labor in return?

How pitiable that it’s considered taboo to suggest someone on public assistance do something – anything – that resembles actual work.

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston has, predictably, been criticized by the left for suggesting schoolchildren receiving free lunches sweep cafeteria floors as a way to encourage a work ethic, something the Savannah Republican believes will serve them as much as anything they learn in the classroom.

Of course, the inevitable outrage from the usual suspects was so foreseeable it might as well have been telegraphed: Another mean ol’ conservative picking on the poor

Kingston, one of eight candidates seeking to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., also raised liberal ire by suggesting last week at a speaking engagement in Augusta that able-bodied individuals receiving food stamps should be required to work. He unsuccessfully pushed for the measure in the $1 trillion farm bill that passed the U.S. House last month.

Again, why are people demonized for merely suggesting able-bodied people on the government dole do something in return for the handout?

If your Uncle Larry gave you some cash until you got back on your feet, wouldn’t you inevitably feel compelled to mow his lawn or clean his gutters or – something?

What makes Uncle Sam different?

We commend Kingston for standing behind the substance of his remarks. There is nothing wrong with espousing the value and dignity of work, particularly to young people.

Public assistance is for people who need it. And there is no shame in asking for help. But neither is there shame in able-bodied recipients helping out.

We can think of one student whose work ethic was partially shaped by cleaning his school cafeteria, the late Joseph D. Greene.

Greene’s family was so poor that he earned lunch through custodial work at his Emanuel County school. He detailed the formative experience in his memoir, From Cotton Fields to Board Rooms.

Greene, who died in 2007, was executive vice president/chief marketing officer for Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Co., one of Augusta’s oldest and largest black-owned businesses, before retiring in 1991. He then had a second career as a business professor at Augusta State University.

He was the first African-American elected official in McDuffie County, and was chairman of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. His civic contributions culminated in his posthumous induction into the Junior Achievement CSRA Business Hall of Fame in 2011.

Childhood chores didn’t seem to have a negative effect on him.

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon