In the opportunistic politics of the current United States, welfare has become controversial sometimes due to political expediency versus substantiated concerns over deficit or disparity. Romney’s 47% remark (video clip, NYTimes), the stereotype of the ‘welfare queen’ (Krugman, NYTimes), attacks on welfare programs, and others, are clouding sincere discussions about just how important the disadvantaged are in today’s America.
Here I propose a methodology for determining where the line falls between giving the disadvantaged opportunities to work for and leaving the taxpayer open to potential exploitation.
The Two Purposes of Welfare
1) support those unable to support themselves and their dependents. This is borne out of social compassion and motivations to maintain a base level of social environment, health, safety, and economy.
2) to help the able climb their way back into economic productivity. This is the source of our political tussling most of the time. As spoken by a ‘rather’ prominent recent conservative:
Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence. – Ronald Reagan
This methodology depends upon one premise: that every person in a civilized society should be offered a reasonable chance, given their circumstances, to escape their disadvantage.
What a society considers ‘reasonable’ is critical to determining the nature of its own welfare system. Under the guideline that each welfare beneficiary should be willing to work reasonably hard, we define a Maximum Reasonable Contribution (MRC). The MRC is a defined set of rules about the maximum investment and sacrifice a person should be expected to make to be worthy of being afforded a working path out of welfare. By meeting their MRC, a person signals that they are ready for the state to provide the resources necessary for that person to educate, to train, and to find productive work so long as they maintain their MRC. While helping to clarify an approach to the problem, I do not attempt to understate the considerable complexities of settling on what’s ‘reasonable’ and of filling in the resource gaps fairly for every citizen.
Defining the MRC
Defining the Maximum Reasonable Contribution would come down to political negotiations as informed by social studies as possible. This is a synopsis of the kind of form the MRC definitions might take.
- 50 hours a week of productive contribution for a healthy childless person (considered a first-prioritized combination of work, study, job-seeking/volunteering, rehabilitation, and travel to/from those activities).
- 5 hour a week credit per dependent to be used by any parent or legal guardian for care/attention, up to a maximum of 20 hours per week per adult.
- Specific considerations would be made available for illness, disability, and other disadvantages that may make a well-meaning person unable to reach the same productive contribution as others.
Connecting the MRC to Policy
Once the MRC has been defined, it would be the job of independent bodies from commissions down to local doctors to ensure that those citizens earnestly meeting their MRCs would be able to access one or more paths towards self-sufficiency. Resources would need to be provided at the local, state, and national levels to ensure that those meeting their MRCs find themselves on paths out of welfare.
What This Would Achieve
It may seem like a version of ‘welfare to work’ idea, but the greater purpose of the MRC methodology is to help a society determine what level of benefits are objectively appropriate for its disadvantaged. Based on little more than the agreement upon provision of equal opportunity, the society can then define MRC based on its own work ethic and can then commit to meeting whatever gaps remain.