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Welfare is a set of measures, primarily financial ones, designed to help people who cannot support themselves. Unemployment is a prominent cause for why one may seek and receive it, as job searching is often a time-consuming process during which the person has no income. However, many non-disabled people proceed to stop any efforts to find a job or search with no intention of taking on a position once they start receiving aid.
They see living off of welfare payments, however small, as an easier option than looking for work. Some government agencies have instituted work requirements to combat this abuse of the system. With them, welfare recipients receive some form of work as soon as their welfare request is accepted. This paper will review the situation surrounding this provision, including its reasoning, benefits, and history.
The Value of Work
A widespread perception of work as solely a way to obtain money exists in popular culture, influencing the perceptions of many people. Mantouvalou (2015) describes a popular BBC show where the protagonists regard traditional jobs as affairs “for fools and horses” (149). In this paradigm, work only exists so that one can earn enough that they no longer need to. Then, they can leave the position to lead a life of leisure and luxury. The view lends itself to the idea of working as little as possible and expecting as high a return as one can obtain. Moreover, many unemployed people who do not have work experience do not believe they can achieve this end goal. As such, they content themselves with welfare payouts, doing no work but receiving some money in return.
However, as the examples of many extremely wealthy people who keep the working show, there is more to the activity. Mantouvalou (2015) claims that it is an essential part of human flourishing, contributing to a person’s growth and self-development. Work creates social interactions and requires one to work for the benefit of a broader community. Moreover, it lets one exercise their talents to solve problems that have a practical impact.
As such, it can be argued that people who abuse welfare to avoid working rob themselves of a valuable part of life. They cannot become productive community members, but they also slow their self-development and are left behind. With this approach in mind, one can argue that work requirements reduce the burden on taxpayers and ensure that welfare works as intended while also benefiting its recipients.
Government Programs with Work Requirements
There are welfare programs in the United States that use work requirements as an essential component and succeed. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also known as TANF, is a prominent example, requiring job participation from adults who engage in it (Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation, 2018). The program’s caseload dropped substantially once the work aspect was introduced, reducing the burden on its budget.
There are many other examples of similar phenomena on both local and federal scales. This fact may indicate that people who intend to abuse the system can no longer do so. However, most statistics on the topic do not produce specific categorizations to confirm this notion, and there may be unintended side effects. There may be welfare recipients who cannot work due to some reason that is not recognized by the government. Work requirements would remove their support and leave them helpless.
With that said, many welfare programs provide people with predetermined, government-sponsored positions. As Rodgers (2016) notes, such practices have a strongly negative history associated with them, which goes back to the 16th century the United Kingdom. The ratio of work to compensation may not be sufficient to meet the needs of the welfare recipients, particularly in today’s rapidly changing environment.
Also, the time spent working to receive welfare is the time taken away from the search for a more permanent job, and the overall length of a case is increased significantly. Overall, while work requirements may be highly beneficial to both providers and recipients of welfare, many current implementations may not be appropriate to the situation. As such, some form of compromise may be necessary, one that takes both the diverse needs and abilities of welfare recipients and the prevention of abuse into account.
Does Welfare Discourage Employment?
The topic of welfare’s effects on employment is a contentious one, where it is highly challenging to determine what side is correct. If there were a definitive argument, it would have shaped policies worldwide to support the side that used it. As such, it is best to examine the arguments of both sides as well as the evidence they provide. Blank (2018) presents the case that welfare is contrary to employment, noting that increases in earnings reduce benefit payouts, which makes work meaningless, and citing research that finds a reduction in work incentives as payouts rise.
However, these issues may be related to design faults in specific welfare programs, as it is possible, if expensive, to ensure that the payouts remain the same while one works. However, this change drains taxpayer resources while leaving the person disincentivized to work due to the free money they receive.
The other side of the argument does not deny this fundamental effect but claims that it does not influence work intentions significantly. Engster (2015) highlights an analysis of 20 OECD countries, including the U.S., which shows that the relationship between social spending and employment is weak, and claims that taxation policy is more relevant to the topic. With this argument in mind, one can claim that work requirements can harm one’s search for employment, which is unaffected by aid.
However, with this position, one can also notice that increased welfare does not contribute to employment. Thus, it is logical to minimize spending on its programs, though a degree of support will still be required. Work requirements can help subsidize welfare spending by having people spend shorter times in programs and possibly perform work for the government in return for the money.
Overall, the author of this paper supports the proposition that work requirements in welfare programs improve the overall results. They help unemployed people gradually transition into productive society members, with some assistance if necessary. On the other hand, programs with no requirements expect them to accomplish everything themselves. It can be argued that they would have done so already if they could or wanted to.
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The proof of intent aspect also helps weed out the people who intend to abuse the system, reducing the burden on the taxpayer. While there are some disadvantages to the program, the emergence of the Internet allows one to reduce the time spent searching for job opportunities significantly. With that said, welfare work designers have to be careful to maintain a balance that produces good results without overworking the recipients.
Welfare and Previous Administrations
Work requirements tend to be a Republican proposition, and Democrats usually oppose them. With that said, according to Glass (2018), Bill Clinton, one of the two Democratic presidents in the last three decades, campaigned with the promise of ending welfare entitlement. The claim was a result of a long period of discussions about welfare fraud and dependency. However, it should be noted that Clinton’s administration did not enact the policy immediately.
It needed additional influence from a newly elected Republican house speaker to formulate and ratify the bill. The law, known as ‘Welfare to Work,’ or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, went into action in 1996. It gained a reputation for effectiveness and its success at helping people enter the workforce, continuing to operate until 2012.
The Republican administration under George W. Bush that followed was satisfied with the bill and kept it in place. As the proposition of welfare work was consistent with the party’s general beliefs, the new government had no reason to try to repeal the policy. Instead, it tried to improve the effects by expanding on the concept, an idea that proved unpopular. According to Roberts (2002), the President tried to make the requirements stricter, increasing work hours to 40, reducing the number of recipients, and tightening the requirements.
However, the initiative met with significant resistance for people who considered the move a pre-election political move rather than an attempt to improve the state of the American population. As a result, the bill was never put into practice, and the Clinton administration policy remained unchanged.
During Barrack Obama’s first term, the policy also remained in place, though the Democratic party of the time disagreed with it, unlike that of Bill Clinton. The policy was too popular and successful for initiatives centered on its dismissal to pass through Congress. However, as Rector and Menon (2017) note, in July 2012, the administration released a policy directive that enabled states to dismiss the TANF work requirements. The move was effectively a workaround that bypassed the law for the benefit of Democrat-run states. In general, local governments were free to keep practicing the reform as originally conceived if they wanted. In the end, according to Rector and Menon (2017), President Donald J. Trump reversed the decision. As a result, the reform’s original formulation, created through bipartisan effort during the Clinton administration, remains intact.
Overall, work requirements appear to be a beneficial component of the welfare system. They let the person confirm that they sincerely intend to enter the workforce instead of exploiting the system and lowering expenditures. Moreover, the United States has had a functional and popular welfare system for over two decades, one it can improve further through careful adjustment. However, excessive enthusiasm concerning work welfare programs can be harmful.
Disadvantaged populations must not be exploited as a result of overly strict policies. Besides, many cost-cutting measures, such as the reduction of welfare payouts as one’s work earnings increase, ultimately contradict the purpose of the program by reducing incentives to obtain a job. Lastly, as the examples of other developed countries show reforms beyond welfare programs that concern areas such as taxation are necessary to achieve the best effects.
Blank, R. M. (2018). It takes a nation: A new agenda for fighting poverty. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Engster, D. (2015). Justice, care, and the welfare state. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Glass, A. (2018). Clinton signs ‘Welfare to Work’ bill, Aug. 22, 1996. Politico. Web.
Mantouvalou, V. (ed.). (2015). The right to work: Legal and philosophical perspectives. Portland, OR: Hart Publishing.
Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation. (2018). TANF work requirements and state strategies to fulfill them. Web.
Rector, R., & Menon, V. (2017). Obama gutted work requirements for welfare. Why Trump is right to restore them. The Daily Signal. Web.
Roberts, J. (2002). Bush touts welfare reform. CBS News. Web.
Rodgers, H. R. Jr. (ed.). (2016). Beyond welfare: New approaches to the problem of poverty in America. New York, NY: Routledge.