In honor of our 45th president, and his results-oriented 100-day plan - I thought I would throw out one or two thoughts that address two main problems we have all over America today. One is a welfare system that discourages work, and the second is the skills gap in our population as a whole as it relates to hire-ability. First let’s define welfare. Welfare is a series of government programs that provide financial aid to people who cannot support themselves. Welfare is not our Social Security payments, VA benefits, unemployment insurance or disability programs. Secondly, welfare is generally a good idea that is administered poorly. Having a safety net is not only the sign of a just and righteous society, but it is absolutely necessary for many American families to weather financial hardships.
The problems of our current welfare system are numerous, but let’s focus on just a few. One is: they discourage work by telling the recipient the benefits stop when you get a job. Two is: they leave the recipient with nothing to do, and all day to do it in. Three is: the programs offer no built-in way for the person to climb out of the hole they find themselves in, through real-world job training.
So here’s my idea. Reset the programs so the benefits are most often paid through businesses to the recipients, rather than directly to the recipients themselves. Imagine if you receive a general assistance check of $800 per month. My thought is to offer that same person a chance to double their cash benefit if they receive their check through an employer that hires the person. The government would put in half the money and the business would put in half the money needed to pay the employee. As an example, an employee would get paid $10 per hour, but half of that would come from the business and half from the government. Clearly, part of the plan would need to be exemption from income taxes on the recipient as well.
The benefit to the government is it would be able to combine two often completely dissociated programs into one. The General Assistance Welfare Program, plus a jobs-training program would be covered by this one single change. They could also extend it for a period of time at a reduced rate, if needed, to assure long-term employment of the beneficiary.
The benefit to the business owner would be to receive a full-time employee at half the going rate, and support their community as well, by creating self-sufficient workers.
The real benefit, though, is to the welfare recipient. I’ve talked to probably 75 long-term welfare recipients about this idea over the past several years. I’ve only found four folks who rejected the idea. The rest all agreed they would much rather be working to receive their benefit versus sitting at home. They all felt like welfare was something they had to take versus wanted to receive, and if they could replace it with real work they would jump at that chance.
When you ask long-term unemployed folks about their recent efforts to get off welfare, most tell you the problem was they could not find a job that would net out more cash than their current benefit, or they didn’t have the right skills for that particular job.
This is another reason why I would encourage the welfare-through-work program. Employers would be encouraged financially to hire people as they can literally pay half the going rate. They would need to train the person for the job while on the job, but every business owner I know assumes that responsibility now. I think of my work over the last 40 years and everything I do now that is valuable to an employer is something I learned while actually on the job. Part of the American success formula for individuals is to start at the bottom and work your way up. As you get better at your work, you are worth more to your employer (or to their competitors) as you are now trained and have skills that make you worthy of a higher wage.
Lastly, I would offer the side benefit of mental health improvement. The psyche of an unemployed person deteriorates the longer they are out of work. Any work is better than no work, and especially if you are learning a skill that advances you in a new profession. Your whole mindset changes. A person who earns their living is typically happier, healthier and certainly much more productive.
Advancing such a plan through the various governmental hurdles seems to be the greatest obstacle. Perhaps our new administration could cut through the governmental morass to help Calaveras County make this a reality. Our county could be the early adopter of a plan to make welfare great again.
Ken Johnson, a software industry entrepreneur, routinely contributes to the Opinion page. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.