Fifty years ago today, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. His words of freedom, hope and perseverance have touched millions of Americans of every race and creed, and will continue to echo for countless generations to come.
But there are two critical elements of freedom: civil liberties and economic independence. True freedom cannot be achieved without either. While Dr. King ultimately won his battle in the civil liberties realm – culminating with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – President Barack Obama is miserably failing to lead the cause for economic independence today. Quite the opposite, he’s condemning a whole generation of Americans to become a permanent underclass dependent on government sustenance indefinitely.
Welfare now pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states, creating little incentive for Americans to take entry-level work and likely increasing their long-term dependency on government sustenance, according to a new study by the libertarian Cato Institute.
As the author of the study, Michael Tanner, explains, “Most reports on welfare focus on only a single program, the cash benefit program: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This focus leaves the misimpression that welfare benefits are quite low, providing a bare, subsistence-level income. In reality, the federal government funds 126 separate programs for low-income people, 72 of which provide either cash or in-kind benefits to individuals.”
“In fact,” as Tanner writes, “in 33 states and the District of Columbia, welfare pays more than an $8-an-hour job. In 12 states, including California, as well as the District of Columbia, the welfare package is more generous than a $15-an-hour job. In Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C., welfare pays more than a $20-an-hour job, or more than 2.75 times the minimum wage.”
And keep in mind welfare benefits aren’t taxed, while wages are.
Now reasonable people in today’s society clearly recognize that welfare programs are a much needed safety net for families in need of assistance. But reasonable people also understand that these benefits should not be made available condition-free and indefinitely. That’s precisely why the Democratic Clinton administration, with bipartisan support from a Republican Congress, passed landmark welfare reform legislation in 1996 that aimed to transition Americans off of indefinite entitlements and into the workforce through work/education requirements and jobs training programs. The underlying concept of the new law was that able-bodied adults should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving welfare aid.
As Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley of the center right Heritage Foundation describe, “In the four decades prior to welfare reform, the welfare caseload never experienced a significant decline. But, in the four years after welfare reform, the caseload dropped by nearly half. Employment surged and child poverty among affected groups plummeted. The driving force behind these improvements was the rigorous new federal work requirements contained in the TANF law.”
However, last year, the Obama administration – through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – rewrote TANF policy to remove the federal work requirements that were the foundation of the reform law by issuing a new directive stating that the traditional TANF work requirements can be waived or overridden by a legal device called the section 1115 waiver authority under the Social Security law (42 U.S.C. 1315).
As Rector and Bradley go on to explain in specific detail, “In the past, state bureaucrats have attempted to define activities such as hula dancing, attending Weight Watchers, and bed rest as ‘work.’ These dodges were blocked by the federal work standards. Now that the Obama administration has abolished those standards, we can expect ‘work’ in the TANF program to mean anything but work. The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama administration clearly guts the law.”
So you can understand why less than half (41.6%) of adult welfare recipients participate in work activities nationwide today, according to HHS.
Simply put, when you’re out of work year after year after year, without learning any new skills or education, it is all the more harder to get these people employable enough to get back in the workforce at any time further down the road – and we’re talking millions and millions of people here (Census figures show that only 2.6% of full-time workers are poor, compared with 23.9% of adults who do not work). Has this administration successfully created a whole new generation of permanent, unskilled, uneducated underclass doomed to be dependent on government sustenance indefinitely?
More importantly, what would Dr. King say about millions of Americans liberating themselves from the shackles of oppression and segregation just to have the shackles of dependence and atrophy placed upon them indefinitely?
I believe African American Louisiana Sen. Elbert Guillory said it best when he stated, “Programs such as welfare, food stamps, these programs aren’t designed to lift black Americans out of poverty. They were always intended as a mechanism for politicians to control the black community. … Our self initiative and our self reliance have been sacrificed in exchange for allegiance to our overseers who control us by making us dependent on them.
“Sometimes I wonder if the word freedom is tossed around so frequently in our society that it has become a cliché. The idea of freedom is complex and it’s all encompassing. It’s the idea that the economy must remain free of government persuasion. It’s the idea that the press must operate freely without government intrusion. And it’s the idea that the emails and phone records of Americans should remain free from government search and seizure. It’s the idea that parents must remain the decision makers in regards to their children’s education, not some government bureaucrat.
“But most importantly, it is the idea that the individual must be free to pursue his or her own happiness – free from government dependence and free from government control – because to be truly free is to be reliant on no one, other than the Author of our destiny.”
I’m sure Dr. King would agree.