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November 29, 2016

Low-Skilled Job Openings Means It's Time to Reestablish Workfare


The Wall Street Journal reports that the labor shortage for low-skilled workers is growing, which means it’s a good time for Congress and President-elect Donald Trump to turn welfare into “workfare,” where people must perform some type of work in order to receive welfare benefits. 

According to the Journal, “The combined restaurant and accommodations sector in May had 700,000 vacant positions … the highest since 2001.”  Construction firms are also struggling to fill openings. And the agricultural industry is complaining it can’t find enough workers either. 

Many of those jobs used to be filled by immigrants, both documented and undocumented. But the number of immigrant workers has been declining, leaving employers scrambling to find people to get the work done. 

So how about reinvigorating the requirement that those receiving welfare have to perform some type of work? 

In 1996 Congress passed one of its most successful policy reforms: The Personal Responsibility and Opportunity Act. The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector writes, “In 1996, Congress enacted welfare reform legislation that included three main elements, the most important being the work requirement. As a result of this reform, welfare caseloads dropped by half and employment rates among welfare recipients soared. … Unable to roll back workfare legislatively, liberals are employing an illegal bureaucratic tactic to gut the work requirements in the original legislation.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has proposed A Better Way plan for welfare that would re-enforce the workfare provision, but even his outline doesn’t include all forms of welfare—and Medicaid is welfare. 

The idea is simple: If a person is capable of work—that is, not limited by physical or mental disabilities—the person must work to receive welfare benefits. If someone has a low-income job, fine. If not, the person must find a job or engage in some type of state-designated work.  

The purpose of workfare is not to punish anyone. Many people get down on their luck or face some difficult times and need a helping hand. The purpose is to encourage those who can find a job to do so, rather than trying to get a taxpayer-financed handout. 

That gives social workers more time and resources to devote to those who really need help.

When unemployment is high, transitioning to workfare can be a challenge. But now there are low-skilled jobs begging to be filled. Congress needs to pass welfare reform that creates the incentive to fill those jobs.


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