President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday calling for the establishment and strengthening of work requirements for beneficiaries of social safety net programs.
“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,” read the executive order.
There are few good reasons empirically to double down on this approach and even the “welfare makes people not want to work” philosophy is deeply challenged by welfare studies. But Donald Trump — who inherited as much as $200 million from his father and lives in a $100 million penthouse decked out in 24 karat gold — wants to do it anyway.
Bills that introduce work requirements to gain access to social programs are often referred to as “Welfare-to-Work” and have gained increasing popularity over the past three decades. Studies have shown that depending on the goal of these programs, success varies wildly. Those programs, they found, were not able to both cut government expenditures and help people reliably.
As Flint, Michigan sheriff Robert Pickell told Michael Moore in the Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, Welfare-to-Work “really has no merit.”
Another central thrust of the President’s argument is welfare-to-work programs restore dignity to Americans, which just isn’t true.
Laura Grennan was interviewed by Slate in 2016, where she recounted her experiences with welfare-to-work programs. A downward spiral caused by personal crises shattered Grennan’s life, Bad luck and bad timing left her family living at a Salvation Army in Oklahoma. At her lowest moment, she went to a caseworker and said she needed to apply for assistance.
“He turned around and said, ‘No, you don’t need to. You want to,'” she recounted. “The judgment—the look. It made me feel like I was 5 years old and I just broke a glass or something.”
This is the dignity that the Trump Administration wishes to extend to the unfortunate nationwide. Meanwhile, a study in the journal “Work, Employment, and Society” shows that a generous and kind welfare system does far more to encourage people to find work.
“There are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labor market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states,” found one study.
Kind-hearted policies may become increasingly necessary as a labor-market disaster looms in the coming decade. Half of all jobs in America are currently being threatened by automation, including five million to driverless cars alone.
And if someone is put out of work by the decision engine, President Trump’s compassionate response seems to be “Just find another job” instead of providing meaningful assistance.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.