Jay Richards explains how welfare forces people into dependency

Christian philosopher Jay Richards writing for the Heritage Foundation.


More than 77 government welfare programs—which are spread across several federal departments and provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and targeted social services to poor and low-income persons—are “means-tested.” That is, beneficiaries qualify if they are below a specified income level.

Regardless of their intention, means-tested programs by their very nature pose disincentives for households to increase their incomes and risk termination of their benefits. Thus, the welfare system effectively set up roadblocks to the two main avenues for economic progress: marriage and employment. A single mother would be ensured of her benefits package as long as she did not take a job or marry an employed husband. Given this scenario, it’s not surprising that dismal societal trends have followed.

Unwed childbearing is the major cause of child poverty in America. Since 1965, the rate of unwed births has soared from 7 percent to 39 percent (and among blacks, to 69 percent). Children born and raised outside marriage are nearly seven times more likely to live in poverty than children born to and raised by a married couple. Moreover, unwed childbearing is concentrated among low-income, less educated women in their early 20s—those who have the least ability to support a family by themselves.

Low levels of parental work is the second major cause of child poverty in the United States. In a typical year, only about one-fourth of all poor households with children have combined work hours of adults equaling 40 hours a week. The typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year, an average of 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year—the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week through the year—nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of poverty.[6]

Marriage and one parent working = no child poverty. Why is government undermining that? Because broken homes produce children that require government intervention = more government = higher taxes = greater “equality” of wealth through government-run redistribution.

The article explains several government policies that would reduce dependency on government.

Richards explains:

The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 reduced some of these damaging incentives in one major program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Under AFDC, states were given more federal funds if their welfare caseloads increased, and funds were cut whenever the state caseload fell. In other words, states were basically encouraged to swell their welfare rolls.

Welfare reform replaced AFDC with a new program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which provided incentives to move recipients toward self-sufficiency. Funding to each state remained constant regardless of the size of caseloads, and states were allowed to retain savings from caseload reductions.

In addition, states were required to have at least half of their welfare recipients engaged in work or activity that would prepare them for employment. Rather than anticipating depending on the government indefinitely, recipients were limited to five years on the welfare rolls. (Under the old AFDC program, recipients spent an average of 13 years on the rolls.) These reforms in funding structure and incentives made a substantial difference.

Despite dire predictions by opponents of reform that work requirements and benefit limitations would lead to a surge in poverty, just the opposite occurred. States had the flexibility to design programs that best fit the needs of their constituents. State welfare agencies were transformed overnight into job placement centers, while social workers helped recipients access child care, housing, transportation, or other support that was necessary to move them into jobs and toward self-sufficiency.

Within 10 years, welfare caseloads shrank by more than half: 2.7 million fewer families were dependent on welfare checks. As the welfare caseloads fell, the employment of single mothers surged upward, and 1.6 million fewer children were living in poverty.[7] In 2001, despite the recession, the poverty rate for black children was at the lowest point in America’s history.[8]

Unfortunately, Obama rolled back welfare reforms in order to incentivize people to go back onto government dependence.

Keep in mind that Arthur Brooks of the AEI has shown that the amount of wealth a person has (over the poverty level) is not what makes them happy. What makes a person happy (above the poverty level) is that a person is making their own way and earning their own bread by their own work. That’s what makes people happy.

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