Saturday, November 23, 2013

Is there enough incentive to get off welfare in Tennessee?

by KRISTIN FARLEY, KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Should welfare benefits equal more than a minimum wage job? A recent study shows benefits outpay most entry level jobs.

Minimum wage jobs pay about $15,000 a year, so at face value, this study by the Cato Institute is disheartening to many. The cash value of potential benefits in Hawaii equals more than $49,000.

Second highest is Washington, D.C. where the benefit equals around $43,000. The lowest state, Mississippi, is at just under $17,000 and Tennessee falls right behind with the second lowest potential package at around $17,400. (link)

Comment: Having worked with poor people almost all of my life, this is not news to me. Public housing, AFDC (now TANF), food stamps, medicaid, free phones and various other forms of assistance makes welfare pay better than working.

Once one is on welfare assistance, it is hard to get off.  Working people sometimes must make tough choices and manage their money. On welfare, most of the choices are made for you and there is much less to manage. People on welfare do not develop the skills to be self sufficient. Their normal development into adulthood is stunted. Also, getting off welfare  is risky. If you lose your public housing because you earned too much money, and then you lose your job, you may not be able to get back into public housing. There is a waiting list. It is the same with other services. Welfare pays just enough so that working is too expensive. And, to avoid the risk of failure, it is better to take no risk.

Also, many on Welfare do have a little income on the side so they are not as bad off as they may appear. Often the badydaddy still comes around sometimes and "helps out." Food stamps are quit generous and often food stamps are sold at the going rate of 50 cents on the dollar so the family can have money for  cigarettes, lottery tickets, booze or other luxuries of life. And some people on welfare may work a little from time to time either on a cash basis or just enough not to endanger benefits. And, there is the drug dealing and petty crime to supplement the public assistance.

A  popular way to game the system is the "Earned Income Tax Credit." People claim to have had a job as a self employed person. The most popular phantom jobs are child care provider, caterer, house cleaning and lawn care. They learn the sweet spot were they show they earned just enough to get the tax "return" of money they never paid in, in the first place, yet avoid losing benefits. People on welfare develop that welfare mentality, learning how to game the system, not get caught, and get more and better benefits. They know where to get help with utility bills and they know how to register their kids for a nice Christmas and where to get free coats come winter.

Welfare does not get people out of poverty but subsidizes a persons poverty so there is no incentive to stop being poor and it destroys a person's character. A minimum wage job of $7.50 an hour may not be much, but it is the first step on a latter out of poverty. That $7.50 starting job teaches one values and skills such as punctuality and responsibility and being willing to take some crap and it teaches one the pride of having earned what they have. A job builds one's self esteem and sense of worth and ones value to an employer. Welfare turns people into people with no ambition who are comfortable in their poverty.

Some liberals would argue that the solution to this problem, is to make working pay more- raise the minimum wage. That is not a solution. Raising the minimum wage simply leads to fewer minimum wage jobs- fewer entry level jobs, fewer chances to clime out of poverty. It is cutting off the bottom rung on the latter. Also, unfortunately, some people are not worth $15 an hour.  They are not worth $7.50 an hour. There are people who have become socialized into the welfare culture and developed the welfare mentality who are essentially "worthless."  Many of them, I would not let them work for me, even if they would work for free.

In my view we need to reinstate the strict standards of the initial welfare reform and over time ratchet up the pressure. One of the problems with welfare reform is that it is expensive to get people off welfare. I don't think we can pull the plug on welfare all at once and let people sink or swim. We need to be willing to invest in the short-term in order to make long-term gains. People on welfare need to have help getting a GED and taught how to get a job. Welfare is a disability. Maybe we need to provide a tax incentive to employers who will hire a person who is on welfare.

Paying a mother of an infant a welfare check is cheaper in the short run than paying her child care for her so she can work at a minimum wage job. Paying the welfare however, does not teach the skills and values necessary to end welfare. Paying her child care for a time so she can work, and then phasing it out gradually over time will transition her out of welfare. People on Welfare need a lot of help to make the transition to normal society. To end welfare we need to cut benefits but also give people a hand up. We need to not expect to change the welfare mentality overnight. There are generations of people on welfare who have never known a working person. Welfare is a sub culture. We need a long-term commitment to ending poverty that forces people to change their behavior and values. Too much of the War on Poverty has been a program to make poverty comfortable. We need a real war on poverty that makes welfare uncomfortable and helps people escape.

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