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I met someone today who doesn’t deserve a living wage. I’m often told such people don’t exist, so maybe I hallucinated this encounter. From what I could see he wasn’t deserving of a job or a wage. At some point in his life, he might be. Perhaps next week. But today? No.

In fact, I was arguing about the minimum wage with someone recently. Halfway through the discussion, she forcefully proclaimed that “everyone deserves a living wage.”

I hear this idea quite a bit nowadays. There’s a lot of deserving going on, apparently. Everyone seems to deserve everything. We deserve a job. We deserve affordable housing. We deserve a phone. We deserve cable TV. We deserve internet access. We deserve higher wages. We deserve. We deserve. We deserve.

It used to be that a man was owed what he had earned. Now, he’s owed what he “deserves.” This word, “deserve,” is toxic. I think we’d all be better people if we never uttered it again in our lives. If I could violently murder a word in the English language, it would be “deserve,” followed by “entitled,” and then, since I’m already on a linguistic killing spree, I’d take out “epic,” “awesomesauce,” and the phrase “just sayin’.”

It’s not deserve’s fault that it’s become such a hideous term in our culture. It should be a fine word. It’s definition is quite manly and respectable:

Deserve [dih-zurv]: to merit, to be qualified for, to be worthy of, to have a claim to.

You wouldn’t know from the way it’s used, but “deserve” actually means something very close to “earned.” You deserve something if you are qualified for it, if you are worthy of it, if you have a claim to it.

Is everyone qualified for a job? Is everyone worthy of one? Does everyone have a claim to a job? If you have a claim to something, that means you are owed it. So if I’m automatically owed a job, who, precisely, is in my debt? All business owners? So I suppose I can walk into an interview, plop down on the chair, put my feet up on the desk, light a cigar and shout, “I’m here to collect my debt!” Or maybe the universe owes me. The universe owes us all a job, is that it? It used to be: I think therefore I am. Now it’s: I am therefore I’m owed. Is that the way it works?

How does the friend I met today fit into the conversation? Let me tell you about this deserving young gentleman.

I was in line for the customer service desk at a particular large retail chain. Two dudes were in front of me, they looked to be about my age. They were wearing t-shirts and jeans, which is standard apparel for this establishment. As we all waited our turns, they carried on a conversation that I couldn’t help but hear. Nothing terribly interesting. Evidently they attended a party a few nights ago that, they both agreed, was a splendid little shindig (as the kids like to say). Finally, it was their turn. The guy on the right spoke for both of them. And when I say “spoke,” I mean “muttered disinterestedly”:

Guy: “Applications?”

Employee: “Sorry?”

Guy: “Ya’ll got applications?”

Employee: “For what?”

Guy: “Ya’ll hirin’?”

Employee: “Oh, you want job applications?”

Guy: “Yeah, ya’ll hirin’?”

Employee: “Well, I don’t know…”

Guy: “Can we just get applications?”

Employee: “Yeah, no, I don’t think we’re hiring.”

Guy: “Oh, sucks, alright.”

And then they both walked away.

Now, I’m pretty sure this place, like every big chain retailer these days, has their applications online. I’m also pretty sure that they, like every big chain retailer, are always hiring. I’m positive they’re hiring in early November, right at the beginning of the Christmas season. I’m positive that I could have come up right after them, looked the woman in the eye, spoke clearly and politely and said, “Yes, hello, how are you? My name is Matt Walsh. I’m very interested in any job opportunities that might be available here. Could I possibly speak to a manager if they aren’t busy? If they are, could I fill out an application and leave it here with you, please?”

I guarantee the woman would have either handed me an application, directed me to the website, sent me to a kiosk to fill one out, or even called the manager. I guarantee that, magically, they would have gone from “not hiring” to “hiring” in the span of 90 seconds. Do you know why? Because I’d present the image of someone who is worthy of a job. The guys before me presented the image of people who aren’t worthy of mopping the bathroom floors.

The guys before me put precisely 0.0 percent effort into their “job hunt.” And this is an extremely common problem. Ask anyone who works at a customer service desk, or any manager at an establishment that commonly attracts job searchers in my age demographic or younger. When I worked as a shift manager at a pizza place eight years ago, I once had a dude walk in with his SHIRT OFF and slung over his shoulder. He came up to the counter and said, “what’s up? I need a job.”

I said, “I’m sure you do. Goodbye.”

Everyone deserves a living wage? That’s a nice thought, but I prefer to walk around in the real world with my eyes open. It’s safer this way. And it allows me to see that a certain portion of the population can’t even be bothered to speak in full sentences when searching for employment opportunities.

There are a lot of unemployed people in this country. Many are hardworking, ambitious, competent people who have fallen on tough times. I feel for them. I take solace in the knowledge that these folks will get through it, because that’s what hardworking, ambitious, competent people do. God bless them. I pray for them and their families. But then there’s the other sort of unemployed person; the sort who’s unemployed because they deserve to be unemployed. They drift around like dried up leaves, floating on the breeze. They expect to do nothing, make no attempt to better themselves or their situation, and still have society hand them their “due.” Some nefarious forces want us to pretend that this kind of person doesn’t exist.

They’re liars. And their lies aren’t doing anyone any favors.

Here’s a bit of hard truth: if you’re young and you have no dependents, no serious responsibilities, no mortgage, no spouse, nothing but yourself to worry about — there is little excuse to be unemployed for very long. Once you’ve grown a little, and your life is complicated, and you’ve got kids and houses to pay for, being unemployed is a different situation entirely. You can’t just take any old job because any old job won’t be enough to fulfill your myriad of financial obligations. But you’re 23 years old with no kids and nobody depending on you for anything? Put on a collared shirt and some khaki pants, hit main street and fill out applications in every store, shop, restaurant and business until you find something. Anything. If need be, get up tomorrow and do it again. And then again the next day. And the next day. And the next day. Put some pep in that step, decide what you want, and then go out and grab it. If you want a job – go get one. ANY one. There’s far too much apathy and far too many excuses polluting the environment in our society. I can barely breathe; the fog of “blah” is so thick.

It physically pains me to see some young guys — right around my age — stumble into a place half awake, mutter a couple phrases to the cashier, then shuffle out, and consider that another successful stop in their “job hunt.”

It’s a job HUNT, bro. Go hunt. Is this how you’d hunt for wild game? Do you wander into the forest, say “deer,” wait for a minute, give up and head to Denny’s?

Where’s your determination? Where’s your “give me a chance, I’ll do anything” spirit? Young people used to be revolutionaries. They used to be worldshakers. They used to be radicals, I’m told. They used to say, “give me a job cleaning toilets, and next week I’ll run this place.” They used to be on fire with determination and ambition. They used to have dreams and they used to live and die for those dreams.

Some of my fellow young people still fit this bill. But too many, FAR too many, are closer to my pal in line this afternoon. Plenty of older folks have a similar apathetic demeanor, but it’s more problematic in my generation. It’s more problematic because 1) we’re the future, and 2) it’s wholly unnatural for us to be indifferent. We’re supposed to be the energetic, wide eyed rebels. We’re supposed to be the ones climbing the mountains and conquering the planet.

Instead, many of us sit around waiting for a genie to materialize in our living rooms and hand us a six figure income, a nice car, a house and a 401k.

Not all of us. Not me. Hopefully not you. But many.

But we can’t have honest conversations about anything in this country full of overly sensitive wimps. So when the subject of unemployment comes up, particularly unemployment among 20-somethings, nobody is allowed to suggest that, possibly, SOME of these unemployed folks just AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH. We’re not allowed to say that.

And when the subject of any other problem arises, we’re not allowed to acknowledge the existence of the people who cause their own troubles.

Because of this, many who desperately need a swift kick in the butt must now be deprived of it. This is a grave injustice — both to the would-be kickee, and the willing kickers. I consider it my mission to remedy this situation, for the sake of both parties.

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