Josh Heath: The progressive case for ending welfare

By Signal Contributor

Last update: Monday, June 5th, 2017

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.

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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.

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  • Gil Mertz

    “…In these chaotic political times, old, tired ideas won’t do; progressives need fresh thinking..”

    Yes, the “We Hate Trump!” and “The Russians Stole the Election!” progressive political strategies are indeed getting old. Well done, Josh.

    • lois eisenberg

      We do hate Trump. How can you not the way that he is destroying this country.** And yes the Russians interfered with 2016 election **
      TRUE FACTS ** Not fake news but true honest to goodness true facts ***

    • Josh Heath

      I’m a progressive and I absolutely agree. Trump won for a reason, the Democrats got complacent. We argued that “America is already great” when the facts say otherwise. We claimed the economy was booming when almost 15% of our citizens are un- or underemployed.

      Thanks for reading! Hope I keep your interest in the future.

      • Gil Mertz

        Josh, it doesn’t appear that Democrats have learned from their humbling losses as they continue to double-down on Russian hacking despite no evidence. They are only digging themselves deeper in a hole with their ridiculous protests, angry rants, and conspiracy theories. This is definitely NOT the way to win back all the voters they lost in November.

  • lois eisenberg

    “Government jobs for the poor.” BINGO ****
    “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.” YEAH ***

    • Josh Heath

      It would end poverty and handouts, that’s what I call the Art of the Deal!

  • Brian Baker

    Unfortunately, Josh, I think you overlooked a major flaw in your proposal.

    You can’t really “create” jobs that don’t already exist in our government work force. If there’s something that needs to be done — such as your examples of building roads, schools, teaching, whatever — there’s already someone doing it, as those things are already being done now.

    So you can’t create “new” jobs; all you end up really doing is replacing the current workers, many of whom are private-sector contractors, with “working welfare” employees.

    The country’s economic model pre-FDR was fundamentally different from today. The government had a much smaller role, so FDR was able to create jobs out of pretty much thin air — though the long-term economic benefit to the country has been doubtful at best — and the slack was really taken up by the manpower demands of engaging in World War II.

    Since that time, the government has grown into a gargantuan entity with its tentacles woven throughout our economy. So the economic reality of your proposal would result in major disruption of a significant portion of the work force as current employees — both direct and indirect (such as vendors and contractors) — were replaced by the “working welfare” employees. In fact, all you would really do is create an entirely new group of people without jobs.

    • Josh Heath

      I appreciate these thoughts. However, I disagree with the notion that there is no more work to be done. Our infrastructure is crumbling, too many families lack access to day care providers, in many communities trash litters the streets, and homeless shelters and other non-profits go understaffed. The government could find jobs for poor folks to attack each of these problems. It could so without making other individuals unemployed.

      Conservatives were right about welfare–a job is better than a handout. However, society has a duty to ensure, if we are going to kick the poor off welfare, that there are jobs available to them. In too many economically disadvantaged communities, this is not the case. Having the government provide work would solve that.

      • Brian Baker

        I didn’t say there’s no more work to be done. What I DID say is that there are already people employed to do that work, so your proposal makes no sense.

        “The government could find jobs for poor folks to attack each of these problems. It could so without making other individuals unemployed.”

        Well, yeah, I guess so. But then you’re defeating your own purpose, because you’re simply inventing make-work time-wasting pretend projects, while increasing an already overtaxed and over-extended budget. After all, the actual money has to come from somewhere, right?

        So what you’re basically proposing is that instead of just handing people money for doing nothing — our current welfare system — we’ll make them show up somewhere and push a broom around, or do Caltrans freeway cleanup or something. In essence, the government will babysit them.

        I don’t see a dime’s worth of saving in there anywhere.

        • Josh Heath

          I am trying to understand each of these assumptions.

          First, I will grant you that there are already folks employed in infrastructure sectors, child care, and doing community beautification work. But since there is still a tremendous need in each of these areas, clearly we need more manpower, no?

          • Brian Baker

            LOL!

            Young man, try selling that to the unions representing those “already employed” folks. Or are you suggesting that we “employ” these welfare recipients and start paying them union wages?

            This just gets better and better. I now this sounds to you like a great idea, but I don’t think you’ve really thought this through.

          • Josh Heath

            What your saying is just hard to understand. In your view, giving work to the unemployed is taking opportunity from the employed? How could this be true? Logically, one who is employed already has opportunity….

            If I’m enjoying a meal and the cook makes a plate for the hungry fella next to me, how do I lose?

          • Josh Heath

            Let’s look at it in practice. If the government creates a day care center for poor children, staffed by former welfare recipients and others with no income, how does this harm workers already employed at day care centers in the community?

          • Brian Baker

            Are you suggesting there’s an unlimited need for daycare centers? If we build enough of them to provide employment to everyone on welfare, they’re not just going to be sitting around empty?
            The same holds true for everything else the government provides. Every project or service. Unless you’ve got a cornucopia of unlimited government funds with which we can simply dream up make-work projects for which there’s no actual need.
            Try selling that idea to taxpayers.

          • Vanessa Ulloa

            For “Daycare centers” are you referring to childcare? If so, not just everybody can go into that field and while a degree is not required all the time to be a teacher it is not a job you can just hand to anybody.

          • Brian Baker

            I absolutely agree, Vanessa. Another great point. It wasn’t my suggestion, it was Josh’s.

          • Vanessa Ulloa

            Ah, I wasn’t sure who suggested it. I think I just come from the mindset that I wouldn’t want just anybody watching my children, especially if i’m paying as much as childcare costs nowadays. I hope this doesn’t sound insensitive in anyway, but anyone can go and pick up trash on the street, not everybody can be a teacher or daycare professional.

          • Brian Baker

            I’m with you 100%, trust me. That’s only one facet of the failure of young Josh’s idea. The same issue holds true in other areas, too. He seems to completely ignore or dismiss the idea that most jobs require some knowledge or training or specialized skill. He seems to think we can just drop warm bodies in anywhere.

          • Vanessa Ulloa

            Well, I disagree. I don’t think he’s specifically stating that. I think some jobs you can just place people in, some will require some training and that can be provided. Some jobs are a little more sensitive like child care or anything that handles personal data–things that require background checks. Although, to Josh’s point, if there were former welfare recipients who had the personality, temperament, and took training (CPR, etc.) provided or otherwise to work in a daycare then by all means, hire them.

          • Brian Baker

            If they were the kind of people who had training, education, and a willingness to work they wouldn’t be on welfare to begin with. They’d already be in the work force. That wasn’t at all the thrust of his proposal, nor does it reflect reality.

            He’s essentially advocating a make-work program akin to FDR’s New Deal. I’m not really interested in re-litigating this topic. I think I stated the problems pretty clearly in my first comment on the thread.

  • lois eisenberg

    “Trump wants to blame Democrats for blocking his agenda, but the truth is that he cannot even get 50 Republican senators on board for his biggest priorities.”

    • Brian Richards

      Compared to the Dems problems, that’s nothing!