Making Welfare Work

Policy Backgrounders | Welfare

No. 143
Thursday, December 04, 1997
by Dr. Merrill Matthews & Kristin A. Becker


The states that have successfully reformed their welfare systems demonstrate once again that incentives work. When states adopt incentives that encourage people to take a job and help them make the transition so they can keep it, the welfare caseload drops dramatically.

"The Conference of Mayors sought more federal money to create make-work jobs - showing that this powerful group still misunderstands the principles of reform."

The states that have not successfully reformed point out the obstacles to making welfare reform work. Unfortunately, it is not clear at present whether welfare-to-work efforts will be successful nationwide. Thus a request from the U.S. Conference of Mayors for more federal money to create more jobs for welfare recipients shows how one powerful group still misunderstands the need to put welfare recipients into real jobs, preferably in the private sector. For example, the Full Employment Program adopted in Oregon and several other states uses a welfare recipient's cash allotment to subsidize a newly created private-sector job. That job can supply the welfare recipient with new hope, new skills and a new sense of dignity. The Conference of Mayors' approach, by contrast, would use public money to create public, make-work jobs with no future and no hope.

Such a proposal does not end welfare; it simply puts cities, rather than individuals, on the welfare dole.

Unless elected officials, government employees, unions and the public are serious about welfare reform, the movement will die slowly, with critics saying "we told you so" - even as they continue to undermine reform efforts.

The question is not whether states can make welfare reform work; many already have. The question is whether opponents will scuttle these and other efforts and sentence millions of Americans to the continuing cycle of poverty and despair.

NOTE: Nothing written here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the National Center for Policy Analysis or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

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