Easy access to entitlements undermines Americans’ work ethic

In Capitol Review, Notes by Mark Hillman

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933.

Although sometimes considered the father of the American entitlement state, FDR understood that our sense of achievement and self-sufficiency comes from our work.

Forty years later, another Democrat, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan likewise grasped the degrading affect of welfare on those it supposedly benefits:  “It cannot too often be stated that the issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it, but what it costs those who receive it.”

In the past 50 years, our federal government has made it increasingly easy to collect a check for doing nothing.  We are now witnessing the rotting fruits of those policies falling from the tree of good intentions and spoiling our society from within.

FDR’s “make work” programs paid people to put their abilities to work:

  • Civilian Conservation Corps employed two million unmarried men under military-style discipline to work on reservoirs, bridges and forests.
  • Civil Works Administration put four million men to work performing tasks from tutoring to building schools and public parks.
  • Works Progress Administration employed some nine million Americans, mostly working on roads and bridges but also artistic projects.

Today, we seek workers from other countries to perform “jobs Americans won’t do.”  Americans won’t do those jobs because they’re too comfortable sitting on their couch while collecting a handout.

Employers must compete against the wages government pays for doing nothing and the reality that working for a living means forfeiting 40 hours of leisure time each week.

Since 1964 when President Johnson declared “War on Poverty,” the percentage of men ages 25-34 who neither work nor seek work has more than tripled, from 3% to 11%, writes Nicholas Eberstadt in National Affairs.  Among men ages 45-54, the share that has left the work force soared from just under 5% to almost 15%.

“American men in the prime of life have never been healthier,” Eberstadt writes.  “Yet they are less committed to working . . . than at any point in our nation’s history.”

In just the past 30 years, the share of Americans receiving means-tested welfare nearly doubled from 18.8% of the total population to 35.4% – rising from 42 million to 109 million people.  That’s more than twice as many as receive Social Security or Medicare benefits.

In both 1983 and 2012 – both years in which the country was recovering from severe recession – the poverty rate stood at 15%.  That means that today the number of people above the poverty line receiving “need-based” payments is greater than those below the poverty line.

From 1963 to 2013, government welfare payments represented the fastest growing source of personal income in America.

“America today is almost certainly the richest society in history,” Eberstadt writes.  “Yet, paradoxically, our entitlement state behaves as if Americans have never been more ‘needy.’”

“The fact that so many are willing to accept need-based aid signals a fundamental change in the American character.”

Many Americans no longer feel any embarrassment about long-term reliance on government handouts.  Government aids this appeasement by laundering money so recipients never bother to realize that real working men and women are paying for their life of leisure.

Americans are indeed generous and caring, but the distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor is being erased.

Ironically, anti-poverty programs have created a permanently-dependent underclass and a “poverty industry” both inside and outside of government.

Government is robbing our children of the values, culture and opportunity that made our country exceptional.  Europe’s experience bears witness that once the welfare state is grafted into our culture and economy, turning back the clock is virtually impossible.

Trading the Land of Opportunity for a government handout is the ultimate betrayal of those who built this country and those who now may never experience it.