Today, the House will take the next step toward critical reforms to help more Americans move from welfare to work. We will vote to establish a conference committee with the Senate to develop a final Farm Bill—a main plank of our workforce development agenda. Here are three reasons this is so important:
1) More Americans are looking for work and more companies are looking for workers. Last month, more than 600,000 people joined the workforce. That is great news. We have 6.6 million jobs open right now in our country—at least one job for every American in search of one. But our labor participation rate still remains relatively low. “Between 1965 and 2015, the number of prime-age men neither working nor looking for work grew more than three times faster than the number in the workforce,” resulting in 7 million men missing from the labor force. One in seven 16-24 year olds in the U.S. are neither in school nor working, totaling more than 5.5 million “disconnected” youth nationwide.
2) Our federal benefits framework is not doing enough to incentivize work. The growth of federal programs provides some color—the last time the unemployment rate was at 4 percent, there were 17 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. Today, with that same unemployment level, there are more than 42 million. We need to make reforms so that these programs encourage work and provide training for those who are work-capable but may not have the adequate skills to secure a good-paying job.
3) The House Farm Bill ties work requirements to work supports, empowering people to get back into the workforce, find a career path, and fulfill their true potential.
It’s a model that works. A new Council of Economic Advisers report noted, “evidence suggests that welfare programs that require work in return for benefits increase adult employment and may improve child outcomes.”
The report, which looks at welfare reform during the 1990s, uses the shift to the work-focused Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program as one of the factors in improved outcomes among the program’s recipients. “Between 1996 and 2000, TANF receipt by single mothers fell by 53 percent, their employment rate increased by 10 percent, and their poverty rate fell by 20 percent.”
The report also notes the effectiveness of work-promoting incentives like the Earned Income Tax Credit. Work requirements for SNAP may act as a complement to these credits, pulling even more people out of poverty and onto a path to prosperity.
As The Wall Street Journal editorialized earlier this year, “Paying people to make it easy not to work—and thus languish for a lifetime in poverty—is not compassionate. It’s destructive of human dignity and leads to more inequality. Republicans are right that welfare reform will assist American upward mobility, and they should take the case to the public.”
Americans are better off now in this booming economy, and this is one way we can make things even better for more families. “If we can get these things right—helping more students get into good jobs and careers, and helping more people get out of poverty into the workforce—those are big changes,” Speaker Ryan said last week, “Those are things that will help restore intergenerational mobility for families and communities.”