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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


The Value of Work (Part Four)


photo credit: kk+ via photopin cc

As Americans, we usually pride ourselves in being the best. We love being number one in the world—in the Olympics, in economics, in entertainment…you name it.

America is Number One Again…Unfortunately

According to Relevant magazine, the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed what America has long known to be true: America is indeed number one. Does it even matter in which category America is number one? It’s so obvious that it’s almost redundant to say it, but, in the interest of journalistic integrity, we’d best examine the details. When put up against Canada, Australia, Japan, Britain, France, Portugal, Italy and Germany and eight other developed nations, America came in first for all kinds of stuff:

  • Infant mortality
  • Injury and homicide rates
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • AIDS
  • Drug abuse
  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Heart disease, lung disease, and disabilities

And, obviously, America shows no signs of slowing down. “It’s a tragedy,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, who chaired the panel. “Our report found that an equally large, if not larger, disadvantage exists among younger Americans.” And that doesn’t even touch on violence, in which “Americans are seven times more likely to be murdered than people in the other countries, and 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun.”

According to a report by Wealthson, the U.S. also leads in unemployment when compared to ten top industrialized nations between 2009-2010. And youth unemployment is higher than any other demographic in the U.S.

So, here’s my question:

Is there any connection between being number one in categories like teen pregnancy, drug abuse, obesity and homicide rates and the fact that young adults are not working? 

I think there is. When you study unemployment rates for young people and compare them to rates in these categories as well—you see a parallel.  When youth are working they are generally engaged in something meaningful and don’t have time for these anti-social endeavors.  I recognize this may seem overly simplistic, but it’s true. Work is not only about a paycheck, it’s about the development of a person, about the expression of one’s gifts, about contributing something valuable back to society. I know this sounds old-fashioned—but work is supposed to give meaning to our day-to-day lives. I am not saying it’s where we derive our identity, but it IS a place to express our identity.

I say let’s work to get young people back to work. Let’s get them ready for the workforce by equipping them with life skills. And, let’s tell them the truth about the importance of moving from a “consumer” to a “contributor” in this world.

I think they may just surprise us with what they can do, when they don’t have time to do the things they shouldn’t do.

What do you think? Are these trends related? Leave a comment below.


  1. Susan Meyer, St. Joseph MN on January 24, 2013 at 7:57 am

    I had the fortune to visit Iceland about 6 (?) years ago. While on a tour there the driver was telling us about the changes that had taken place due to the fact that Iceland had to join the European union (accept the Euro, etc.) due to pressures from them concerning imports, etc. With that came changes to Iceland’s traditions. When students turn I think it was 12 or 14, they were required to work in the summer for the government. They would go out in groups with a supervisor and clean parks, etc. The tour guide said you would often see them laying out or playing as the work was neither strenuous or rigid. The EU said this was child labor and they needed to discontinue. As a result (he believed) churches which dot the countryside that had never in their history been locked or even had locks! were being vandalized. Other similar issues like this were also becoming common place and it was his and many others belief that now that they had a population with nothing to do and no supervision, they were causing trouble.

    By the way, Iceland is a lovely place with wonderful people who are happy to have you visit their country. We had people every day come up and say hello and thank us and ask us how we liked it their. It is a good starter travel for people who are not sure about foreign travel! Clean, beautiful, very green, safe (at the time there were only something like 9 people in their prision, all but one a foreigner! I am afraid due to the above that may change unfortunately) with lovely people who want you to come, and the flight is short! I think it was a 4 and a half hours from Minneapolis. The hot springs are wonderful and the food is delicious.

    • Susan on January 24, 2013 at 8:01 am

      Sorry–“there”– I can’t help but correct my error!

    • Tim Elmore on January 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks for sharing that story, Susan! That’s a great example of what I’ve been talking about the last few days.

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The Value of Work (Part Four)