Current Weather
The Spy FM

Is Welfare ‘A Rational Alternative To Work’?

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
October 4, 2013

For many people, Michael Tanner says, it pays not to work. People on welfare — that’s everything from food stamps to Medicaid to heating assistance — can make more in 35 states than they would make if they had a minimum wage job, according to Tanner. Even for someone who wants to work, he says, “welfare can actually be a rational alternative to work for many people.” Choosing welfare may be a sound economic decision, Tanner argues in a recent report published by the libertarian Cato Institute, where Tanner is a senior fellow.

“If someone came to me and said, ‘I’ll pay you everything you’re making today but you don’t have to work any more,’ I’m going to think about that,” Tanner says. In Rhode Island, according to Tanner’s report, a mother with two children can receive aid — cash assistance, Medicaid, housing, etc. — worth almost $39,000 a year, more than a starting teacher or secretary, according to Tanner.

I asked Brandy Alvarez, a single mother with two kids who lives in North Providence, Rhode Island, what she thought of Tanner’s analysis. “I’m wondering where the rest of my money is,” she said, laughing. She said she didn’t receive housing assistance or several of the other benefits included in that $39,000 figure. In Rhode Island, only one in four welfare families receives housing assistance. People wait years for public or subsidized housing.

And if you do get a job, benefits don’t all disappear. When Alvarez was offered a $12 an hour job with a nonprofit, she knew she’d lose her monthly welfare check and her food stamps would be reduced. But she got to keep Medicaid. She says, in the end, it was worth taking the job, even though she’s just breaking even.

There is also, of course, the question of whether you can get a job at all. Tonilyn Rowe is a 25-year-old single mom who left her job at Dunkin Donuts when her son Marcus was born. Unemployment in Woonsocket, her Rhode Island town, is over 11 percent. Many stores are shuttered. Wal-Mart recently left town.

“Every day, I go out, and push my son around and fill out applications,” she said. “But obviously it’s not a good look to walk into a job with a stroller.”

To Tanner’s point, Rowe does worry that she’d lose some of her benefits if she took a job. But she also thinks certain benefits that she doesn’t get — job training and child care — would help her and others like her support themselves in the long run. To some extent, Tanner agrees.

“I think what we want to do is have transition assistance,” he says. “But we also want to make sure that the level of benefits is not sufficient to be a disincentive.” [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

Listen Live Now!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

11AM to 12PM The Story

The Story

The Story with Dick Gordon brings the news home through first-person accounts. The live weekday program is passionate, personal, immediate and relevant to listeners, focusing on the news where it changes our lives, causes us to stop and rethink, inspires us.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center