On June 18, 2013, Lawrence Mead, Department of Politics and Public Policy, New York University, testified before Congress, “Making Welfare Work”, that even as the number of Americans receiving welfare has dramatically increased in recent years, welfare programs are failing to provide sufficiently strong incentives for the recipients to find work. This has contributed to the fact that “the share of our population that is employed has recently fallen sharply compared to several European countries” such as Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Mead shows that there are three main reasons for this: “(1) work tests in the major income programs are still limited, (2) we have neglected the problem of poor men, and (3) the disability programs are diverting too many Americans from the work force entirely”. He points out that the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 required that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program put 50% of their cases in rigorous “work activities” by 2002. This led to a dramatic reduction of the AFDC/TANF rolls by more than two-thirds. But since then exemptions and waivers have sharply limited the specific work activity demands which mobilized welfare recipients to hold jobs.
Even with the currently high unemployment rate, there are plenty of low-paid, low-skilled jobs available, which are suitable for welfare recipients. After all, even a low-paid job may well provide the opportunity to learn skills as well as to develop better work habits. Congress clearly needs to strengthen work requirements for welfare. And the incentives need to be right so that these workers keep more pay than they give up in benefits.
Putting more welfare recipients back to work will not only help control the federal budget but also give our economy a boost by increasing the size of the workforce!