What Trump gets right about moving from welfare to work

What Trump gets right about moving from welfare to work
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The naysayers revolting against the executive order President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE signed this week, seeking to expand work requirements for people receiving food stamps, misplace their benevolence.

Rather than branding work as a four-letter word, they should do two things. First, look at the success of welfare reforms of the 1990s that require work. And second, understand most people want to work and denying them the option deprives them of the central component of being a responsible citizen. Why would we want to facilitate people sitting and home and receive public assistance when they would rather be working, providing for themselves?

The order says:

"The federal government should do everything within its authority to empower individuals by providing opportunities for work, including by investing in federal programs that are effective at moving people into the workforce and out of poverty.”

This policy is a good one. Until the middle of the Obama presidency, people on food stamps were required to work if they were able bodied and a job was available. The policy was changed in 2012, despite the 1996 law that required it, with little explanation as to why.  

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Now the Trump administration, following up on its policy to allow states to require people on Medicaid to work, just proposed it for food stamp recipients. This is a welcome event. Not just because reciprocal responsibility is a good thing, but because the country needs more workers. With the unemployment rate at record lows, companies are scouring for workers, to the point many are searching for ex-offenders to fill the vacancies. Last month, the Labor Department reported a robust 6.3 million job openings. Those vacancies are the pathways toward economic dignity and self-reliance.

Our country’s work participation rate, defined as the percentage of working-age persons in an economy who: 1) are employed and 2) unemployed but looking for a job

The United States does not fare very well here. The World Bank estimates that, for instance, Zambia, Rwanda, China and Tanzania all have higher participation of their people in the workforce. Why would this be so?

First, we have a generous safety net that often allows people capable of work to remain idle and collect government support. Over the last 15 years, the disability rolls have increased by 48 percent. At my organization, America Works, we have placed people who were on the disability rolls into jobs. And they came voluntarily. Often people had applied for disability when other means of government support evaporated such as welfare or unemployment benefits. They were often encouraged by government case workers to do so. There is also a whole industry of lawyers making large profits from putting people onto the disability rolls.

Second, work requirements exist for few who are publicly dependent. Instead of government asking for able-bodied people receiving government assistance to take a job if there is one, little is done to encourage work..  

The arguments for resisting work requirements rely on emotion, not facts. There resides on the part of the antis a sense that work is a punishment.  Pope John Paul ll said it best in a 1981 encyclical: “The whole person, body and spirit, participates in (work), whether it is manual or intellectual work.” Thus, to deny a man work is to deny him part of his spirituality. Work provides sustenance in so many ways, not just financial.  Additionally, unemployment has shown to cause serious physical and emotional tolls.

According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, unemployment leads to increased somatization, depression, and anxiety. A Gallup poll showed that people who are unemployed or employed part time and looking for full time work were up to twice as likely to be depressed as those who were employed. A study completed in the United Kingdom even showed increased mortality rates for those that are unemployed and that work fulfills important psychosocial needs.

So with the scientific literature showing the upside of employment and the downside of idleness, we still have the “kinder and gentler brigade” fighting work for those on food stamps.

When Rudy Giuliani was preparing to run for mayor of New York City the first time, he came to America Works and sat in for more than an hour with a class of welfare recipients in a freewheeling discussion. When he emerged, he said with some surprise, “They really do want to work, don't they”?  He, like many others saw them as a drain on the taxpayer. When he became mayor, he put in place a welfare-to-work program that drastically reduced the welfare rolls.

In more than 50 years of working with poor people, I have seldom seen a person who, given the right opportunity, did not want to go to work. What I did see is government getting in the way. President Trump’s policies are the right antidote to this.

Peter Cove is the author of ”Poor No More” and the founder of America Works and The Work First Foundation.