In the run-up to his campaign for a second term, President Clinton was feeling the heat from Newt Gingrich and the Republican majority in Congress. In response to that heat, he ignored the recommendations of his most liberal advisors and went along with a revision to welfare that required a work component. This new approach to welfare was quickly dubbed “workfare.” In broad terms it worked like this: to receive any form of welfare stipend, applicants had to perform some type of work. Most of the work was in the form of community service, but the kind of work done was not the issue. The goal of workfare was to break the cycle of welfare so that one generation no longer handed it down to the next as an acceptable way of life—the biggest problem with welfare.
The theory behind workfare was that it would: 1) eliminate the mystery and fear of working and show people they could perform in the workplace, 2) open doors to employment for welfare recipients allowing them to take the first step toward becoming self-supporting, 3) allow recipients to develop employability skills and a history of working, and 4) weed out those collecting welfare because they are too lazy to work. Even faster than its strongest proponents thought possible, workfare began to achieve all four of these goals. In addition, workfare had the added benefit of raising the self-esteem of welfare recipients while giving taxpayers some small return on their money. As a result, the number of people on the welfare rolls began to decline sharply.
All of this occurred back when American presidents and members of Congress still believed getting off of welfare was a good thing. Now we have a president and liberal members of Congress who do everything in their power to keep people on welfare and to increase their number—something they have been all too successful at doing. The first thing President Obama did to increase the number of people on welfare was eliminate the work component. By executive fiat he declared that workfare was dead. He saw the work component as an impediment to people signing up for welfare, and that was a problem in his eyes. After all, part of his grand scheme for keeping power in the hands of Democrats is to get as many people as possible addicted to government handouts so they will vote for the party that provides the most handouts. That party, of course, will always be the Democrats.
So this is what welfare has become in America: a way for Democrats to buy votes using the federal treasury to finance their nefarious schemes. Although ill-advised from the outset, welfare was originally viewed—even by Democrats—as a temporary safety net for people living in poverty. However, as handout programs invariably do, it quickly morphed into a way of life—not just for those who could not find employment but also for those who had no desire to work. The unofficial motto of those seeking welfare soon became, “Why should I work when the government will take care of me?”
Not surprisingly, the number of people collecting welfare has increased rapidly under President Obama; a fact that pleased liberals and the government bureaucrats who administered the program. Liberals soon began to view welfare recipients as votes they could depend on and the bureaucrats who administer the various welfare programs began to view them as job security. That left only conservatives and libertarians to worry that welfare was: 1) sapping the federal budget, 2) replacing the work ethic with an entitlement mentality, and 3) encouraging sloth in able-bodied but lazy individuals who were too proud to work but not too proud to accept handouts.
Workfare certainly had its problems, but even at its worst it was better than welfare as it is operated now. In its current state, welfare encourages irresponsibility, entitlement, sloth, and fraud. What is even worse is that these negative characteristics don’t stop with the current generation. Rather, they are passed from one generation to the next and the cycle of welfare is perpetuated. Just as families with parents who are college graduates tend to raise children who, in turn, become college graduates, welfare recipients tend to raise children who, in turn, become welfare recipients. Rarely does the apple fall far from the tree at either end of the socio-economic spectrum. This is why workfare, even at its worst, is still better than welfare at its best.
Workfare tends to reduce the welfare rolls by helping people become self-supporting, self-respecting citizens. It also reduces the rolls by discouraging slothful individuals who apply for assistance because they are too lazy to work. Both of these things are good and desirable, unless, of course, you happen to be a Democrat whose goal is to herd compliant entitlement addicts to the nearest polling place every two years. Democrats like President Obama who purposefully increase the welfare rolls for no other reason than their own job security are unworthy of the offices they hold. They do a disservice to the people who collect welfare and an even bigger disservice to those who pay for it.