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home : opinions : opinions September 28, 2016

12/11/2012 1:03:00 PM
My Turn: America's safety net has become too comfortable
Jim Barber

To paraphrase Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, "America, we have a problem."

Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare has released a study concluding that a single woman with two children is financially better off with a job paying $29,000 than one paying $69,000 due to entitlement benefits. With $6300 food stamps, $16,500 Medicaid and child healthcare insurance, $4300 rent subsidies, $5000 (low) earned income tax credit, school lunch programs, family assistance programs, she has more disposable income.

Of course, there are variations from state to state, but the facts are ominous. Our "safety net" has become a hammock, sucking the work ethic from a once dynamic population seeking, through hard work and initiative, the "American Dream." America is notoriously generous, but the unintended consequence of that generosity is that, through increasing welfare payments - now exceeding $1 trillion a year, excluding Social Security and Medicare - we increase the incentive to not work.

Today, expectations are different. A recent Wall Street Journal article, "What's wrong in Fort Wayne?" told of employers with job openings that go wanting. Part of the problem is a lack of skilled workers, but part of the problem is "a mismatch between...available and desired pay." When being unemployed is made comfortable enough, a pay scale commensurate with the skill level required for some jobs is not incentive enough for many to give up that comfort.

In this highly technological age, new jobs are constantly being created that require new skill sets. Technology is also changing traditional areas of employment, such as manufacturing, requiring fewer workers to accomplish the same job. That means that those entering the labor force need the tools - education and initiative - to acquire and adapt to ever-changing technology. It also means that those who fail to get those "tools", mostly the consequence of poor life-choices such as dropping out of school, substance abuse, having children before becoming adults, etc., are destined to fill those jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder. And, unless they overcome those poor life-choices - return to school, get clean, go to night school, etc. - they are destined to stay there. For most of those job seekers just entering the labor force, those low level jobs are known as "entry level" employment - a transition stage from teenage to adulthood in which they learn what is necessary to gain and hold a good job, such as showing up ready to do whatever is required.

The safety net was intended for those who, through no fault of their own, lose their job, are injured, chronically ill or are otherwise unable to work. It was not meant to support those who make decisions that relegate them to a lower economic status. Unfortunately, it has become a popular theme by liberals to place the blame everywhere but where it belongs - on the individual. Under our runaway welfare spending, no one has to live below the poverty line, even if they fall into that economic stratum. With the various subsidies and grants they easily attain the lower-middle class lifestyle. Too many are perfectly comfortable there. Meanwhile, the country suffers a labor shortage, the inability to create jobs, and a class of citizens permanently dependent on siphoning the fruits of the labor of middle-class America.

Yes, we need a good safety net. But it should be for the helpless - not the clueless.

Jim Barber is a resident of Camp Verde

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