Welfare Without Work Fails

The Obama administration recently relaxed welfare to work requirements, arguing it will help the truly needy.

In contrast, Pennsylvania lawmakers took an opposite step by including new welfare work requirements in recent legislation. Able-bodied beneficiaries must now submit at least three job applications per week until they secure part-time employment—the same standards for Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation program.

Work requirements help the poor by providing a path out of poverty, giving beneficiaries the experience and skills they need to achieve independence. Welfare without work is a recipe for higher poverty and growing government dependence. To see how, just look at Pennsylvania’s recent record.

For years, the Keystone State’s lax work requirements led to more dependent families. The state lagged the nation in the share of Temporary Assistance for Families (TANF) recipients working or enrolled in work training programs. In 2004, only 7 percent of Pennsylvania families collecting TANF benefits were working, compared to 32 percent nationwide. Overall, the number of Pennsylvania families on TANF increased while rolls were declining nationally.

This was the result of ignoring federal welfare reform and relaxing state welfare to work requirements under former Gov. Rendell. But as the federal government began enforcing work requirements, Pennsylvanians started moving from welfare to work. Nearly 50 percent of TANF families were meeting work requirements in 2009, and enrollment in the program dropped 46 percent from 2004 to 2009.

Work requirements helped families become independent of government welfare programs and provide for themselves through meaningful job opportunities.