Immediately, we old codgers remember Maynard G. Krebs, the goateed, sweat-shirted beatnik, played endearingly by Bob Denver, on the early 60s TV show “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”  Any time the word “work” was said in Maynard’s presence, he would go wide-eyed in alarm and squeak out “Work!?”  The very idea of work was frightful and appalling to Maynard.   Millions of today’s young folks should be able to relate to him.  Hell, they ARE him!

Unemployment is sky high, and it has been for over three years.  So you would think that when a company advertises for young people to hire, they’d be overwhelmed with applications, but that’s not true for many employers.

I speak from first-hand experience.  Part of my job is recruitment of new hires.  The positions we need to fill are in light construction, either in the field or in our metal shop.  If I place an ad, I consider myself lucky if I get more than two applications.  If I schedule two applicants for interviews, it’s likely that neither one will show up.  At least the bums didn’t waste more of my time pretending to want a job.

Even if we interview someone who is capable of doing the job and we make an offer, they often will accept the job during the interview, then not show up for work.  Sometimes they do all the paperwork of a new hire, and I give them the form to take to the clinic for a drug test, and that’s the last I see of them.  It’s extremely frustrating, to say the least.  We have more work than we can do, we offer competitive wages and benefits, and we can’t get anyone to take the job.  Apparently the young dudes don’t need to work anymore.  They are living off their girlfriends, their parents, or the government.  Or all three!

It becomes pretty clear to us — after this happens consistently for over a year — why these guys don’t accept a job.  They never wanted it in the first place.  They are obligated to apply for jobs to continue getting their unemployment benefits.  But we sure as hell know what they don’t want: “WORK!?”

There’s absolutely no doubt that many people, most of them supporting families, have been saved from complete financial ruin by the unemployment benefits that have been extended well beyond the customary 13-week average during normal times.  What is it now?  Like 99 weeks?  It’s an absolute godsend for honest people victimized by the economic crisis, but it’s just another entitlement for the lazy-ass layabouts, slackers, and cheats.

Officially, some 9% of our work force is unemployed, but the  well-informed know that 9% only represents those people drawing unemployment benefits.  In reality, I think it’s more like about 20% of the work force that is unemployed for one reason or another.  And I have no doubts anymore that at least half of the ones drawing unemployment now consider it their primary vocation.  They’re professional gamers of the system.

These are able-bodied young people who are just enjoying the gravy train.  What a ride!  Work a few months, get fired, and spend the next few months sleeping in and playing with their iPads.  If money gets too tight, of course they’ll go crying to their parents who in all likelihood will bail them out by paying their rent so they don’t get evicted and have to move back home.

What a dilemma we have!  If we cut long-term unemployment benefits, it sends many thousands of honest households into bankruptcy and even homelessness.  If these people don’t have money for basic needs, there is even less commerce, therefore, less need for workers.  But by extending benefits for such long periods, we’ve created an underclass of loafers who have forgotten what it’s like to work for a living.  They’ve gotten soft and dependent on government handouts instead of working hard at finding work!

This unemployment benefit thing is only one aspect of the lost American work ethic.  For years, it’s been a nightmare finding good help for average jobs.  I think it started in the 80s, maybe earlier, but it seems  like each successive generation spoils their kids more than the previous, like more and more young people were being raised without being taught a work ethic.

If those kids in the 80s were slackers then, they’re now in their 40s, and a good number of those people still have no work ethic.  And those people now have lazy teenagers with no responsibilities… but they have every electronic gizmo on the market.  They may live in a shabby apartment and drive an old car, but they’ve all got 2-way TV phones that even Dick Tracy would envy!

Every time I talk to another employer, the talk turns to this topic.  Kids today do NOT want to do actual labor.  They expect that “work” means sitting at a computer so they can surf the web and chat with friends on Facebook when the boss isn’t looking.  Or maybe they “work” at a retail store or fast food place, where there’s a bunch of other kids their age so they can yak it up and socialize with each other while their adult customers grind their teeth as they wait to get some service.

How many times have you stood in the checkout lane of a store, waiting to pay for your groceries, and the cashier and the boy bagging your food are engaged in a conversation or flirtation?  They’re totally ignoring you as they slide your purchases over the scanner and stuff them into bags, and the first acknowledgment of your existence is when the cashier announces your total and sticks her hand out for your money.

I’ve talked to employers in other parts of the country, too, and it’s the same thing everywhere, apparently.  Can’t get anyone to take the jobs.  Can’t get them to perform well and be productive if it means actually doing physical labor.  And can’t get them to stay on the job once you’ve spent weeks training them.  They just have no concept of what a work ethic is.  They show up late, drag their feet on the job, complain about the work, and want to go home early.  They think a 40% chance of rain means they don’t have to show up that day.

I had chores as a child.  Before I was a teen, my father was taking me to work with him.  He owned a window cleaning business, and had some nighttime janitorial jobs on the side to keep his workers busy.  He had several employees, and Dad made enough money to belong to the local country club, where he spent most afternoons playing golf and drinking with the other business owners.  But whenever his employees didn’t show up for work for whatever reason, I got drafted.  He always paid me something, but it wasn’t about the money.  For me, it was about helping Dad.  It was what passed for quality time.  Really, I have rather fond memories of it.  I enjoyed working.  It made me feel important to be the person who emptied all the wastebaskets that night!

When I became a teenager, every boy my age that I hung out with had a job.  At 14, I started as a car hop at a drive-in burger joint.  I worked my way up for two years, to fry cook, then grill cook, and by the age of 16 I was night manager.  Almost all the guys I knew were working by the age of 15.  As we got driver’s licenses, we got better jobs.  My friends and I had to pay for our cars with our own earned money – our parents didn’t give us cars.  In my circles, a guy without a job was a guy without a car.  If you paid for your car with your own money, you took pride in it, you appreciated it, even if it was an old rusty clunker that was hard to start and had bad suspension.  Actually, that last phrase kind of describes me lately!

I also worked many short-term jobs when I was young.  There was always somebody looking to have their lawn mowed, their sidewalks cleared of snow, or dandelions to be dug up.  And my friends and I would always be happy to oblige if it meant a few bucks in our pockets.  Having our own money, which we worked hard to earn, was a great feeling.  Being able to pay for things with your own hard-earned money made a boy feel like a man.  And if he really wanted to feel like a man, he could buy a pack of Luckies from the machine for half a buck.  And if he was really feeling lucky, he had coins for those machines in the men’s room.  As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”  But I digress…

Anyway, it just rankles my ass that with unemployment so high, and with assistance for needy families increasing our national deficit, meaning higher taxes for us all eventually, and the unemployment hurting small businesses because fewer people have money to spend – with all the problems unemployment creates, some companies can’t even get suitable workers to apply for job openings.  When employers hire young people, who should be grateful as hell to be employed, many of them are piss-poor employees who are unproductive, untrustworthy, and just passing through.

Of course this doesn’t apply to all young people, or all job types.  But I am confident that if you ask employers across this country about the work ethic of today’s young people, if you ask employers in fields like construction or other physical labor jobs, you’re going to find many of them agreeing with what I’ve written here.

Our American work ethic is in serious trouble.  And it just may be that many small business employers are finding a stronger work ethic among legal immigrants who come to America to work – I mean actually WORK.  Industrialists may find a stronger work ethic in the countries where they have moved their factories.

Employers and policy makers are not the only ones bearing the blame for our lingering unemployment problem.  Part of the blame must rest with parents who coddled their kids instead of teaching them ethics, how to appreciate earning what you want.  But ultimately, a lot of the blame sits squarely on the heads of people, especially younger people, who have no work ethic and expect the government to support them all their lives.

I’m not downplaying the serious unemployment problem this economy has created in this country and many others.  If you’re looking for an office job, you’re probably SOL.  But if you’re an employer looking for able-bodied young folks to do physical work… well, all I can say is “let me know how that works out for you.”