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The Damage Social Programs Cause

My personal experience with social programs consists of collecting unemployment almost 20 years ago for a few months. In this short time, I became very aware of some of the problems that are inherent in programs which are supposed to help people. More specifically, the unemployment system encouraged me not to work.

Unemployment benefits at that time ( in Michigan) were paid weekly. A claimant was allowed to make up to half of his or her benefit rate without a reduction in the benefit. Since I was collecting $140 per week, I could make up to $70 in income without a reduction in my unemployment check. I was working one day per week, making about $65, so I was getting the whole benefit amount.

Then I had a job offer, and I could work for another day per week and make about $50. However, if I took the job, my income would pass that 50% mark in relation to my unemployment benefit. As a result, the benefit would be reduced by half. If I made $50 more, I would lose $70, so in effect I would actually have to pay $20 to work that day. I wasn't too thrilled, and so I turned the job down.

Decisions like these are common for recipients of various tax-supported benefits. I have known several people who stayed on unemployment for months more than necessary because it was easier than working, even thought there were jobs available. I also know some mothers who have admitted to having more children for the purpose of getting more welfare benefits.

Character Corruption

It's difficult to convince yourself to work when you don't have to. It's tough for a woman on welfare to consider marriage when staying unmarried means her live in boyfriend's income won't affect her welfare check. Many people regularly decide to limit their income in order not to lose their rent subsidies. All of these are example not only of the waste of the system, but of the increasing dependency created in the individuals who get "trapped" in these systems.

And these problems are not myths perpetuated by anti-welfare groups. People like myself, who have spent some part of our lives at low income and know many who are poor, see the evidence all around. These are real and regular effects of social programs.

Reward people for non-productive behavior and lifestyles, and these become more common. Punish people for being productive and self-supporting, and these things become less common. These certainly are not surprising conclusions - and they do not point to people as the problem. The problems lie in the social programs that hand out rewards and punishments.

The way in which the programs work, then, is what has to be changed. What kinds of changes? In general we need ways to help those who truly need help, without also training them to be more dependent. We need ways to reward independence and the behaviors that lead to it, and punish or at least take away any profit for dependency and behaviors that perpetuate it.

The specific measures needed is a large subject of its own. They could include training people in money management and job hunting skills. Food and clothing for children - instead of money or food stamps - might take away the profit incentive a single mother has for having more children. A cash reward for quickly finding a new job might encourage those on unemployment to try harder to find employment.

Many changes would probably cost more money per recipient to administer. But if they are more effective programs, the overall costs of the program should go down dramatically in time, because encouraging more individual responsibility and independence would mean less need for the help. Another result is likely to be happier people who are no longer suffering the personal psychological and character damage that being in a social program can cause.


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