Should Work Be a Welfare Requirement?

Ron Haskins, a highly respected scholar in the field of poverty studies, proposes a new system of experiments.

Pretty much ever study on the topic shows that the strictest correlation of high poverty is lack of work. It is so obvious it seems like it doesn't need to be said. Yet, the numbers bear repeating for impact: "17 percent of households in the bottom third of income, compared with 1 percent of households in the top two-thirds, did not work at all."

Poverty is not the only downside of not working. Work creates structure in one's life. It influence's one's perception of his status and identity, and it gives rise to social connections. Nonwork can cause a bunch of problems: personal and medical challenges, nonmarriage and divorce, suicide, alcohol abuse, increased incidence of life-threatening diseases, and even a shortened lifespan.

It would be difficult to imagine a social problem that has been shown to play a greater role in so many of the nation’s major financial, social, medical, and personal problems than non-work—all the more reason to believe that policies designed to promote work are of great importance.

Not good. You would think that no one wants to live in poverty. Yet, a massive number of people, mainly men, are dropping out of the workforce, and becoming more and more dependent on a welfare system that was designed to be a safety net, not a universal income.

Haskins recently released a paper that provides blunt direction on what needs to happen with that safety-net:

This paper calls for establishing the principle that all non-working, able-bodied, nonelderly recipients of public benefits should face a work requirement.

Seems logical. In fact, 83 percent of Americans agree that a condition of welfare benefits is that the recipient work.

Work requirements can come in many forms and can be enforced in various ways that are appropriate to individuals’ circumstances. Here's the kicker, straight from Haskins:

The major programs in the system seem to be permanent fixtures of the nation’s social policy. They have rarely been cut. On the contrary, some of them have been expanded on several occasions. Thus the programs are there and waiting—without the need to try to enact legislation—to increase the income of any and all families that can be convinced to join the workforce.

Yet many of these requirements are not being enforced.

Some of the strategies states employ to avoid the work requirement were built into the original legislation. An important conclusion that could be drawn from the TANF experience is that federal legislation must have detailed work and accountability requirements, combined with effective means of data reporting, or many states will figure out ways to avoid them.

So, what does Haskins propose? Enforcement of the four federal programs in which states have a work requirement: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs (SNAP), housing assistance, and Medicaid.

The requirements already exist, and with some slight correction for work-arounds states were able to get, the program could get back in order again.

Does this mean that poverty will go down or labor force participation will go up?

On first glance, the first question that pops out is whether the rules apply to males living in single households and receiving federal aid. One way to prevent the dissolution of two-parent households and enforce the law would be to ensure all adult parties in a household are participating in some form of work, thus discouraging men from walking out, leaving single mothers to work and raise their kids alone.

What do you propose to force compliance with work requirements and avoid people taking advantage of the welfare system?

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Then this happened! Left and right hit their usual corners, but as Ron Haskins proves, the requirement is far more rational than reporters dare let on.