Do government assistance programs disincentivize people to look for work?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the United States, the condition of people living solely or largely on government assistance has risen, while the unemployment rate remains high and job offers remain low. Part of the problem is the lack of fully qualified people vying for jobs, but another part is the amount and quality of government assistance, which for some may act as a disincentive to seeking work.

The major problem is that government assistance programs were never set up to be full support programs; they were intended to be safety nets to help people who fell on hard times. However, they were put in place with the assumption that people on them would use the money to support themselves and their families while looking for work, and once work was found, they would stop receiving support. Some people today use the government assistance as income replacement instead of a stepping stone; contributing to assistance programs that are overstretched while the nation's taxable income drops.

Today, welfare may be seen by some as almost a second income; forty percent of welfare recipients also work at jobs where they do not have to report their income. Again, this lowers revenues from which welfare is drawn. Paradoxically, working a low-pay job as a stepping stone does carry a stigma, preventing many people from seeking even temporary work in fast-food or similar fields.

Yet another problem is the lack of or narrow range of available work; since so many of the available jobs are low-pay, some may feel that there is no point in employment as they will never rise in the company. This overlooks the possibility of multiple jobs or working towards promotion, even in fast-food franchises.

Naturally, this only speaks towards one facet of the problem. There is no truly defined answer, especially if one uses a specific economic model to inform statistics. However, it cannot be argued that there is a correlation between a rise in welfare and a rise in unemployment; solutions need to come from the private sector.

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