Josh Heath: The progressive case for ending welfare

A worker repairs a pothole in Santa Clarita after weekend storms in January. Twitter photo

Today’s liberals see welfare as a critical tool for fighting poverty. They argue, in an era of low-wage employment, that keeping this program is necessary in order to give the poor a chance to survive.

On a superficial level, this logic has tremendous appeal. Welfare, by giving a monthly check to poor people, does help them get by.

But it is a flawed tool for several reasons.

First, welfare does not provide nearly enough to live on. On average, an individual can expect to receive $300 a month, with a family of four eligible for three times that amount. These benefits don’t come close to lifting people out of poverty.

Hypothetically, one could argue for expanding the program until it enables recipients to have a decent standard of living. That approach would never succeed in the United States, though.

From our country’s founding to the present day, we have always frowned upon the concept of providing folks with generous handouts. It comes too close to socialism, we say.

Therefore, it will never be politically possible to turn welfare into a program that lifts people out of poverty. That is terribly unsatisfactory in my view and makes the initiative a waste of money.

It is time we advocate for a new anti-poverty approach and eliminate welfare entirely.

Specifically, the money we spend on it and other poverty programs should instead be invested in creating government jobs for the poor.

These jobs would be modeled after what President Franklin Roosevelt had Americans doing during the Great Depression: Building roads, schools and post offices; beautifying communities; teaching students; making art.

The positions would pay a decent income that would allow the poor to live with the dignity they deserve. Low-income people would no longer deal with   the stigma of being seen as living off the system. And society would benefit from the meaningful contributions these jobs would offer.

Politically, it would be far more palatable than welfare is now. Conservatives would support it because it would end government dependency and encourage hard work.

Liberals would jump on board, too, for the simple fact that the poor would get more income from working than receiving welfare benefits.

And for those who can’t work, of course, the disability program would still be available. So no sector in society is left out – the able-bodied would get jobs and the ill would continue to receive government assistance.

This vision would be a sure fire way to end poverty and raise all boats.

Liberals must abandon their loyalty to the current status quo. They may believe that welfare is important for the poor, but from the perspective of low-income folks, a job is far better than being dependent on government. It would provide more salary, dignity and self-respect.

In these chaotic political times, old, tired ideas won’t do; progressives need fresh thinking. Ending entitlement programs in exchange for bringing back the public works of the New Deal is the kind of concept that will send shockwaves throughout the culture.

It will tell the American people that the progressive movement has a fresh vision for America’s future.

Josh Heath is a Stevenson Ranch resident and a political science student about to graduate summa cum laude from UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party.

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS