Although attempts have been made to improve the American welfare system, the program is in shambles and every day millions of tax dollars are given to able-bodied people who would rather accept a handout than put in a days work. How do I know? My sister is one of those people (or used to be – since I wrote this, my sister has actually managed to get a job!), along with her boyfriend. My best friend’s mother-in-law is one, too. Even a classmate has told me of her frustration with her own mother who loves the fact that she gets to sit at home every day and still get a paycheck. But are these people really to blame? Or is it a power-hungry government that is actually at fault? The welfare program was created as a charitable endeavor, not something meant to become a crutch for the lazy or the source of such division between the poor and the middle class.
The first social welfare programs were implemented by the Greeks and Romans, and were run mostly by Hebrews and Christians, and eventually Muslims. The Christian church was the main source for charity with some assistance from the guilds, but later most of the charitable work was taken over by local and national government agencies. The Elizabethan Poor Law, enacted in 1601, was the first major implementation of a government welfare program that offered special assistance to the lower classes.
During the industrial revolution, many came to believe that the Poor Law violated the concept of laissez faire and thus opposed the policy. In 1833 the German government began the first far-reaching government assistance program which offered health insurance, accident coverage, and eventually pension for workers. What is referred to as the socialist movement, which promotes the idea of governmental control of wealth, spread throughout the rest of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries and by the 1930’s most developed nations endorsed some form of welfare system. The Social Security Act of 1935, a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, was the beginning of the American welfare program. Enacted immediately following the Great Depression, the services within the Social Security Act provided assistance to the elderly through a program called Social Security, to the blind through Social Security Disability, and to poor dependent children, through what has become the most detested part of the welfare system, Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC (Nightengale, xiii). There have been many additions to that original system, broadening eligibility requirements and, in 1965, adding health insurance for the elderly through Medicare and for the poor through Medicaid (The Columbia Expanded Electronic Encyclopedia).
One of the major problems with the current system is that it hasn’t changed appropriately for the times. With changing social mores and an increased need for education to be able to work, the Social Security and Welfare systems should have made adjustments along the way. Instead, in typical bureaucratic fashion, the program has merely expanded with legislators throwing money to the wolves in the hopes that they would continue to receive votes from the poor masses.
I can’t believe that President Roosevelt ever imagined that the welfare program he enacted with his New Deal would ever be so abused. In 1935 women were not nearly as promiscuous as they are today, and the idea of a single mother was simply unheard of. There was honor in a hard days work and most people really would have been humiliated having to take a government handout. We now have single women who have more children simply to receive more money and people who may never know what it feels like to bring home a paycheck that they have actually earned. The problem is that so many have refused to take responsibility for their actions, with an utter disregard for what the consequences of their decisions may be. This, combined with growing power in government, has created a monster. Those programs that were intended to help citizens in time of need have actually contributed to the demise of both the poor and the government itself. “Government programs intended to provide for families that had lost their breadwinner ended up subsidizing out-of-wedlock births” (Antle), providing a large group of Americans a disincentive to work, an entire generation that believes that everyone owes them something, and a government that is all too willing to take advantage of the situation.
The fact of the matter is that welfare programs breed dependence on the government, which is one of the most dangerous things that could face a nation. Look back to our most recent election, when democrats were telling seniors that republicans wanted to take away their social security. Elderly people that are entirely dependent on social security voted democrat in the hopes that they could keep their benefits, without regard to the strain that those monthly checks are putting on the working class. It never even occurred to these seniors that maybe the democrats were merely trying to gain power, and generating more dependence was the best way to do it. Why is it that the main democratic constituency is poor? Because the democrats will make sure that they continue to receive their welfare checks. The poor are entirely dependent on the government to provide their food, housing, health care, and education – this should sound familiar.
Socialism, if you will remember, is the theory that believes in government ownership and distribution of all wealth, food, housing, health care, and education. This is the polar opposite of capitalism, which relies on private responsibility and superior products and services through competition (remember, America was founded as a capitalist society in order to maintain the personal freedom that our founding fathers so desperately wanted.) Socialism first reared its ugly head in the late 18th century as reaction to the economic changes stemming from the industrial revolution, most predominantly in France. There were some who felt it was unfair that the factory owners were getting rich while the workers were making barely enough to stay alive. While this is a reasonable claim, the way that these reformers wanted to solve the problem was through charity, and subsequently demanded that the wealthy share with the not-so-wealthy. Understandably, the wealthy were not entirely thrilled with this idea and refused to give away their hard earned money (I never said the wealthy were necessarily benevolent). Along came Francois Noël Babeuf who proposed that the government tax the wealthy based on their income and create a system of “cooperation”, thus giving rise to socialism as we now know it (The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia).
Socialists tended to be the peaceful sort; however, some like Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, encouraged class uprisings, revolution, and anarchy to force the government to “share the wealth”. This violent sort of socialism is that not-so-friendly philosophy, communism, whose major tenet is that each man should contribute according to his abilities, and receive according to his needs. Do you see what kind of slippery slope we’re on?
We must get rid of the welfare system as we know it or we will face a government frighteningly communist in nature before we even know what hit us. I am not saying that we can cancel welfare tomorrow, or take away all social security benefits next week, nor am I suggesting that we should. What I am saying is that we need a slow but certain “phasing out” of needless government programs that merely breed dependence on an already too-powerful leadership; lest we lose the very freedom our ancestors gave their lives for.
There are some who advocate a type of welfare reform that would thrust us even further into the socialist/communist realm. Gwendolyn Mink says in her article, “Feminists and Welfare Reform”, that in order to fix the welfare system we need “universal health care; full employment policy; a massive investment in education and vocational training; and aggressive enforcement of anti-discrimination laws” (188). I don’t believe I have ever heard anything so frightening. What Ms. Mink fails to realize is that the goal of welfare reform is to help people become less dependent on the government, not more so. A full employment policy might be acceptable, but universal health care and aggressive enforcement of anti-discrimination laws? Perish the thought!
There are many issues that need to be resolved by any effective welfare reform plan, and I will deal with the ones that I feel are most important, including the need for state control of welfare monies, implementation of work incentives, time limits, and anti-dependency initiatives.
First and foremost, there must be more control given to the state to do as they see fit with the funds that they are allocated for social programs. The federal government has entirely too much control (not only in this arena), and any program that is this separated from the people can surely not be effective. States, counties, cities, and communities know what will work best for the people of their respective areas, and are best suited to meet those needs. It is absolutely necessary that the federal government let the states have the rights and powers that are needed in order to best serve the people. There must be a move away from the desire for power and toward a desire to serve the people.
Second, any effective welfare reform initiative has to include some plan for encouraging work (Sawhill). As it now stands, the welfare system is a great discourager of work, and even encourages the poor not to seek employment. My own sister, for example, received welfare benefits for nearly twenty years and, after the initial welfare reform act of 1996, was “encouraged” to find gainful employment. Unfortunately, when she did find a job, it did not pay enough to support her family of three (partly because of the exorbitant federal income tax that is taken out of her check every week to pay for those who decide not to work), and with the exception of health care for her children and minimal food stamps, she lost all benefits. This very situation encouraged her boyfriend to remain unemployed for as long as possible so that he could continue to receive benefits. In this instance, I cannot blame the poor for not wanting to find a job. If it is going to be so much harder to make ends meet when one is going to work every day, why not just stay at home and keep drawing benefits?
There must be some sort of transitional period after a person begins working during which a percentage of benefits are still provided, and counseling is required to teach the new member of the work force about budgeting and saving. With some amount of benefits still being paid every month, the recipient will be motivated at the thought of ending up with even more money during those first few months, rather than dreading the day they are dropped from the welfare role. We cannot just shove people into the work force for the first time and expect them to be successful. These people may need some help, and we should be ready and able to offer it, if for no other reason than to ensure that they never need welfare benefits again.
Preparing people for the work force by providing the one-on-one training that they so desperately need is yet another reason why control of the welfare system needs to be in the hands of the local governments. In order to keep tabs on those who should be seeking gainful employment, and helping those who have done so, we need a system that encourages personal relationships between the beneficiary and the case worker.
The third major requirement for any successful welfare reform plan is limits on the amount of time one can spend in the system (Sawhill). There must not only be a limit on the amount of time a person can receive benefits consecutively, but also limits on how many years one can accumulate over his/her lifetime. With well defined time limits, a person is encouraged to find work quickly, and to do whatever it takes to hang on to that job.
Once again, we need the ability to assign a case worker to each recipient from the very beginning in order help build the skills needed to find and keep a job. There must also be a way to keep track of each and every person who has ever received welfare benefits to ensure that no one can cheat the system. With the technological advances that have been made just in the last decade, we should be able to do this without much difficulty.
An issue that must be addressed before someone reaches the welfare system is the prevention of dependency and victimization (Sawhill). This can begin in the schools (although I am not even remotely comfortable with the thought of the government indoctrinating our children) by teaching the skills needed to find employment, preventing kids from slipping through the cracks, and teaching the value of personal responsibility.
The cycle of dependency begins early, with children watching their parents (usually the mother) cashing their welfare check every month and complaining about how they have been wronged by society. If the public school system is able to do any good thing, it can teach children that they can make a better life for themselves through hard work and education.
In all honesty, I am not totally against the government offering some help to people who truly need it. Most of us receive some sort of federal student loan money to attend college, which is a wonderful way for the government to encourage higher education and, as a result, a more intelligent and successful nation. I am fairly certain that the vast majority of college students would not be pursuing higher education were it not for the monies they are loaned by the federal government.
Another positive government program is state-funded (not federally funded) health insurance. I am wholeheartedly opposed to federal health care, but it is truly a blessing that there are some states that offer health insurance to the poor and uninsurable. If it weren’t for TennCare, the Tennessee health coverage program, I would have been without health care for nearly 3 years. This is not because I am poor or degenerate, but simply because private insurance companies will not insure me due to pre-existing medical conditions, which is the case for many Americans today. Through TennCare, I was able to see my doctor as needed and receive all the medications prescribed to me so that I was able to go to college and enjoy all of the freedoms that we, as Americans, are so blessed with. I am eternally grateful for the health that I was given thanks to TennCare.
We must remember that, although we should be thankful for a government that provides a safety net for difficult times, we should be fearful of a government that wants us to be entirely dependent on them, for utter dependence is the desire of the communist.

References: Antle III, W. James. “Don’t Turn Back on Welfare Reform.” (2002). 14 December 2004; Hyman, James B. “Preface”. The Work Alternative. Ed. Demetra Smith Nightingale and Robert H. Haveman. The Urban Institute Press, 1995. xii-xv; Mink, Gwendolyn. “Feminists and Welfare Reform.” Whose Welfare?. Ed. Gwendolyn Mink: Cornell University Press, 1999. 171-188; Sawhill, Isabel V. “Welfare Reform: An Analysis of the Issues.” (1995). 14 December 2004; “Socialism” Def. The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia.; “Welfare” Def. The Expanded Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (2003). 14 December 2004 .