The Damage Social Programs Cause
My personal experience with social programs consists of collecting
unemployment almost 20 years ago for a few months. In this short
time, I became very aware of some of the problems that are inherent
in programs which are supposed to help people. More specifically,
the unemployment system encouraged me not to work.
Unemployment benefits at that time ( in Michigan) were paid
weekly. A claimant was allowed to make up to half of his or her
benefit rate without a reduction in the benefit. Since I was
collecting $140 per week, I could make up to $70 in income without
a reduction in my unemployment check. I was working one day per
week, making about $65, so I was getting the whole benefit amount.
Then I had a job offer, and I could work for another day per
week and make about $50. However, if I took the job, my income
would pass that 50% mark in relation to my unemployment benefit.
As a result, the benefit would be reduced by half. If I made
$50 more, I would lose $70, so in effect I would actually have
to pay $20 to work that day. I wasn't too thrilled, and so I
turned the job down.
Decisions like these are common for recipients of various
tax-supported benefits. I have known several people who stayed
on unemployment for months more than necessary because it was
easier than working, even thought there were jobs available.
I also know some mothers who have admitted to having more children
for the purpose of getting more welfare benefits.
It's difficult to convince yourself to work when you don't
have to. It's tough for a woman on welfare to consider marriage
when staying unmarried means her live in boyfriend's income won't
affect her welfare check. Many people regularly decide to limit
their income in order not to lose their rent subsidies. All of
these are example not only of the waste of the system, but of
the increasing dependency created in the individuals who get
"trapped" in these systems.
And these problems are not myths perpetuated by anti-welfare
groups. People like myself, who have spent some part of our lives
at low income and know many who are poor, see the evidence all
around. These are real and regular effects of social programs.
Reward people for non-productive behavior and lifestyles,
and these become more common. Punish people for being productive
and self-supporting, and these things become less common. These
certainly are not surprising conclusions - and they do not point
to people as the problem. The problems lie in the social programs
that hand out rewards and punishments.
The way in which the programs work, then, is what has to be
changed. What kinds of changes? In general we need ways to help
those who truly need help, without also training them to be more
dependent. We need ways to reward independence and the behaviors
that lead to it, and punish or at least take away any profit
for dependency and behaviors that perpetuate it.
The specific measures needed is a large subject of its own.
They could include training people in money management and job
hunting skills. Food and clothing for children - instead of money
or food stamps - might take away the profit incentive a single
mother has for having more children. A cash reward for quickly
finding a new job might encourage those on unemployment to try
harder to find employment.
Many changes would probably cost more money per recipient
to administer. But if they are more effective programs, the overall
costs of the program should go down dramatically in time, because
encouraging more individual responsibility and independence would
mean less need for the help. Another result is likely to be happier
people who are no longer suffering the personal psychological
and character damage that being in a social program can cause.