Abolish cash welfare, food and housing aid, except for the elderly and disabled, writes Peter Cove, founder of America Works, in What I Learned in the Poverty War in City Journal. We need to “move from a dependency culture to one of work-first,” writes Cove, whose company trains “the supposedly unemployable” for jobs.
The federal government would use the huge savings from eliminating welfare to create or subsidize private-sector jobs, sending money to companies to reduce the cost of hiring and paying new workers. The government could also create programs similar to those run by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, paying workers to build parks, refurbish bridges, clean streets, and so forth. The workers’ wages would pay for the basics—food, clothing, and shelter.
But once we dismantle cash welfare and other forms of aid and offer paying jobs in their place, what about the children of those few people who simply refuse to work? I think that we should seriously contemplate removing these unfortunate children from their irresponsible parents. Under current child-welfare laws, social-services agencies can already take kids away from their parents if their home environment is unsafe. Is it so extreme to extend that policy to homes ruined by willful poverty and neglect? I concede that the alternatives here are not pretty; government-regulated foster care, in particular, has its own risks of abuse. Adoption, however, works fairly well in most of the country. Another solution would be the establishment of government-funded institutions, operated by voluntary and religious nonprofits, to care for the children.
It’s time to think the unthinkable, writes Cove.
When I was reporting on welfare reform, every recipient I met said she wanted to work, if she get safe, reliable child care. My colleagues and I followed five welfare families. All found jobs. Only one quit — the one raised in a middle-class family. She got kicked out of a housing program too for refusing to make an effort to get off welfare. Her child wasn’t doing well. If she’d lost custody, her parents could have taken the child and tried to do a better job the second time around.