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Tom Purcell: Discouraging work

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Get this: The government is incentivizing people to not work.

So said the head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last week. CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told lawmakers that millions of workers could either cut back their work hours or opt out of the job market completely because of Obamacare.

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The CBO report says millions of people will opt to keep their income low to stay eligible for federal health-care subsidies or Medicaid — resulting in losses equivalent to 2.3 million full-time jobs by 2021.

But who can blame them?

Working is no fun. I’ve been doing it a long time now and that has been my conclusion.

Every Sunday night I get the blues about the stresses and projects that are due that week.

Every Monday, after I wake, stay out of my way until I’ve had a few cups of coffee — and until about 11 a.m., when I finally have some idea of what I have to complete that week.

Of course, I am a writer. My job is easy compared to many others.

I don’t have to work outside in the brutal cold every winter, as my father had to do for many years. I don’t even have to sit in traffic for hours, as millions of working Americans must do.

Besides, if you have a modest middle-class income, you have a choice.

Hunker down, grow your talents and skills and do what many millions of Americans have always done: get promoted.

Or start a business.

Or do a million other things to increase your income over time to live the American dream.

Or you can go the other direction and find ways to avoid work and minimize your income on paper, so that others will help cover your costs.

I took a cab from the airport recently and the driver, a native of Africa, told me he’d just signed up for Obamacare and qualified for sizable subsidies.

His monthly payment is only a few hundred bucks — whereas my health-insurance payment recently doubled, in part to subsidize his insurance policy.

He also told me he has a nice suburban home and he and his family are living very well in Pittsburgh.

So how did he qualify for such grand government subsidies?

Because he is able to keep a sizable portion of his actual income, which is paid in cash daily, off the books.

He appears much less well-off on his tax return than he is.

The trouble is, the less money he reports in income, the less our government receives in badly needed tax revenues to, ironically, pay his subsidies and whatever other government benefits he is taking advantage of.

There is a reason we still are bringing in at least $500 billion less than we are spending every year.

Now the CBO tells us our newest entitlement is going to cause millions of others to aspire to use the system to their advantage — to qualify for free food, health insurance, housing subsidies, free utilities and on and on.

It wasn’t so long ago that people came to America asking for nothing more than the freedom to make their own way.

They wanted to live the American dream and work hard so their children could enjoy an even better American experience.

How did we arrive at a point where government policy is discouraging these aspirations on such a grand scale?

How did we get to a point where millions of people would rather call it a day and happily accept government benefits than work hard to improve their skills and rise into the highest levels of the middle class and beyond?

Sounds like bad government policy to me — policy that is helping put nails in the coffin of the American dream.

Tom Purcell is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

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