The Failure of the Welfare State

The expansion of the welfare state during the 20thcentury prompted an expansion of the federal government. The New Deal and the Great Society forever changed the relationship between federal and state governments. These phenomena were not unique to the United States, as countries around the world expanded their welfare states. While some of these programs help people and healed some of the generational socio-economic divides, the United States spends an exorbitant amount for welfare programs. The solutions are to reinvigorate American work and family values, establish work requirements, and to keep the government’s hands off the free market. All of these were presented by Robert Doar, a Morgride Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), in “Who Won the War on Poverty: A Fifty-Year Reflection on the Great Society” on April 23, 2018.IMG_20180506_193810626[992]

Doar worked as commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, where “he oversaw a 25% reduction in the city’s welfare caseload.” The number of welfare recipients in New York City went down from 1.1 million in 1995, to 356,350 in 2016. Given Doar’s experience in New York City, he postulates that it is possible to reduce the amount of people on welfare. Before discussing actual welfare changes, Doar wonderfully mentions the cultural problems that must first be addressed to solve the issue. Firstly, Doar mentions the state must promote the institution of the family, and therefore must promote the institution of marriage. From 1960 to 2011, the number of people 18 or over married dropped from 75% to 50%. Moreover, the number of children born out of wedlock has also increased. Based on data alone, children raised in a single-parent household tend to do worse in school and ultimately in life. Not all single-parents are incompetent, but based on the numbers alone, single-parent children start with a massive disadvantage. Only by promoting the institution of marriage can the state prevent people from being disposed towards welfare programs. Doar mentions that the social importance of work has fallen in recent years. The economy goes together with these classic American values that have slowly withered away due to the ever-increasing trend of apathy. Currently 9.5 million work-able people on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) report no earnings. Through the work requirements, the amount of jobless work-able people would decrease. When they finally have a job, they will no longer rely on SNAP; thereby reducing the amount of people receiving aid.

The central kernel to job-based welfare is intuitively the labor force participation. Doar mentioned the shifting demographics in labor force participation from 1980 to 2010. In the age bracket 25-34, the number of women in the labor force has increased from 64.1 percent to 74.9 percent, while the number of men in the labor force has decreased from 94.2 percent to 88.6 percent. Although the increase in female labor force participation is not necessarily a negative, the decrease in working young males is. Therefore, Doar claimed, work requirements must be added preferably at a local level.  The first of these work requirements is to define what an “allowable activity” is when applying for work-based welfare. Then the numbers of hours required should be strictly enforced, along with “consequences for non-compliance.”  Next, and most importantly, is defining success. When does the state stop giving welfare checks? How should the state define success? Until these questions are not answered, the endless cycle of underachieving will not be resolved. Without an end goal insight both the government and the recipients conform, preventing future prosperity.

The fact that fewer people are on welfare should be celebrated not shunned. The decrease of recipients does not mean that there will be an increase in inequality. The common misconception is that inequality is correlated to poverty, is simply not true. Doar claimed that this are two different aspects and are very separate from each other. Moreover, Doar also provided his stance on liberal concerns such as gentrification and minimum wage laws. Doar declared gentrification is not a net-negative, as it diversifies the socio-economic making up of cities, decreases crime, and provides better opportunities for people of a low economic background. Ergo, Doar argued that free-market integration is more effective than government integration. People focus on the negatives of gentrification but completely ignore how it helps the community; members of all backgrounds now have an equal playing field. Doar also addressed the consternation on displacement of poor people; there is no abnormal rate of displacement. On the topic of minimum wage, Doar came to the consensus that while minimum wage laws are not necessarily a bad thing, a $15 wage is simply ludicrous. Not only would businesses start by firing the poorest of workers, they would then implement hour limits to deny workers benefits. Therefore, a federal minimum wage would be disastrous and such policies should be left for local governments to decide.

The creation of the American welfare state might have seemed reasonable after the Great Depression. However, after the failures of the Great Society, the welfare state has shown signs of irrelevancy. What Doar and other conservatives ask is not for an immediate elimination of all welfare; hoping that all poor people die. That is a construction by those on the left that seek to destroy any sort of evidence-based policies, free-market ideas, and fundamentally individualism. To quote Barry Goldwater: “If the government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have.” By making sure that people return to the workforce, the need for welfare will naturally go down. Ultimately these economic issues go together with social issues. There cannot be a motivated workforce without promoting strong families. In times of great need, the government can provide welfare to its citizens; those times are few and far in between, which is not currently the case. The welfare state must be slowly disbanded before it causes a neutering of the American nation.