Quote of the Day:

The main problem with Porter’s position—and others like it—is that it views people strictly as inputs in an economic calculus: if someone makes as much money from welfare as from a job, why bother encouraging them to work?

–Peter Cove in "There Is No Substitute for Work" in City Journal


At least for now, Peter Cove writes in City Journal, efforts to reform the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)–food stamps–are on hiatus after the defeat of the enormously flawed farm bill.

But the issue will come up again and with it the matter of work requirements for recipients of aid. The liberal left regards work requirements as cruel and inhuman treatment. How could we be so mean-spirited when it comes to aiding citizens in need?

Cove cites a New York Times column by Eduardo Porter headlined  "G.O.P. Insists Making Poor People Work Lifts Them Up. Where's the Proof?" Porter begins by saying that there is "something almost eerie about the unwavering nature of the Republican system of belief."

Work requirements, Porter seems to argue, is just a way to inconvenience poor people.  He writes that welfare reform in the 1990s had no effect and that a poor mother who drinks beer all day will, if forced off assistance by work requirements, just be a woman without help who still drinks beer all day.

Even  Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan foresaw starvation for women and children as the result of work requirements. But we have not seen this even though the welfare rolls dropped by 60 percent in the decade after welfare reform.    

Porter did admit that the Earned Income Tax Credit “has done a great job not only in drawing single mothers into the workforce but in improving their incomes, as well as delivering additional benefits to the children.” But Porter doesn't understand why, if someone makes the same from a job as from welfare, a job might still be more beneficial. Here's why:

Commentators opposing work requirements fail to recognize how work plays a restorative and central role in an individual’s sense of self. Yes, some people prefer to be idle and sponge off the government, but most find dependency depressing.

. . .

Work is transformative, and not just in the values-based, spiritual sense that liberals like to mock, but also practically. People on welfare who are given a job—any job—gain a sense of possibility that enables them to start getting the rest of their lives in order.

 Just as nothing succeeds like success, dependency begets more dependency; long-term idleness can create psychological and physical impairments to finding employment.   Instead of attacking work as a way to punish people dependent on government, it should be seen as a vehicle for becoming an adult member of society—a citizen in full. 

Far from being cruel, work requirements acknowledge the value of work and encourage more people to fully participate in society.