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Who's to blame when welfare pays better than work?

August 23, 2013|By Sara Lessley
  • People apply for CalWORKS at the L.A. County Department of Public Social Services' office in Rancho Dominguez.
People apply for CalWORKS at the L.A. County Department of Public Social… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

“Why get off welfare?’ was the provocative question posed by an opinion piece that ran in The Times on Aug. 22.

“While poor people are not lazy, they are not stupid either,” writes author Michael D. Tanner of the Cato Institute. “If you pay people more not to work than they can earn at a job, many won't work.”

Times readers got right to work crafting their wry and impassioned responses. A few backed Tanner and his findings, but more seconded the observation by Ken Feldman of Chino Hills: “The conclusion that Tanner reached from his exhaustive analysis appears to be the wrong one. Instead, he has made the perfect case for an increase in the minimum wage.”

Among the other reactions:

Jay Smith of Bakersfield wrote spiritedly:

“Boy, you sure have to hand it to the Cato Institute. Tanner presents a study that shows that many (or some or a theoretical family of) welfare recipients’ benefits are paying them more than an entry-level job would.

“Does Cato say this shows that wages are too low and too much of the benefits of the increase in the economy over the last few decades have gone to the owners instead of the actual laborers? Say that wages should be higher? Of course not!”

“They say that welfare benefits (actually rather meager already) must be reduced.

“Huzzah, Cato: A fine job. I couldn’t have kept a straight face.”

Liz Fautsch of Encinitis found a little irony in the piece too:

“I think Michael Tanner of the conservative Cato Institute just made the case for a higher minimum wage and subsidized child care. Progressives should thank him!”

Lynda Rush of Santa Monica, a professor emeritus of economics, saw it dispassionately:

“Tanner’s opinion piece on welfare is at best an example of outright ignorance, or at worst it’s another attempt to undercut the already gutted social welfare system in this country…. Our welfare system makes it easier for firms to pay low wages without benefits, leading to higher profits for stockholders. In the end, the taxpayers are picking up the bill to boost the bottom line of business.”

Ronald Fisher of Downey wondered about the real target:

“Conservatives are stirring up their base with one of their favorite demagogueries -- welfare. This comes from several of their 24/7 mean-spirited sites.

“They like to speculate that maybe people aren’t getting jobs because welfare pays too well. More likely it’s because of job scarcity caused by their laissez-faire economic policies.

“Thousands apply for the few jobs offered, while corporate welfare, exorbitant CEO pay, ‘legal’ tax avoidance … drain millions every year, which could sustain jobs here and lower welfare rolls.”

Not so fast, wrote Kathy Fisher of Los Angeles:

“I heartily agree with his opinion of why smart recipients would want to get off welfare. I have always been a proponent of the ‘voucher system’ as opposed to the ‘credit card system.’

“If families that are truly in need could receive vouchers for nourishing food and shelter instead of a credit card funded by the government (our taxes, you and me) that provides for the spending of the recipient's choice, the welfare-dependent population would be halved.

“It's a shame that people's incentive to improve their lot is hampered by this socialistic system. As stated in numerous studies, welfare recipients and their dependents remain poorer than the working population. Along with the diminishment of self-esteem comes the decrease in our country's assets for everyone.”

But Geoff Kuenning of Claremont wasn't persuaded, calling the numbers just “hot air”:

“Rather than do the legwork to find out how much a typical welfare recipient actually receives, he calculates benefits for a completely hypothetical family.

“Having carefully selected an unrepresentative sample, he then concludes that we should cut benefits even further (raising the minimum wage is, of course, out of the question).

“I have a suggestion for Mr. Tanner: Try raising two small children for a year on these supposedly lavish benefits. No fair applying for a part-time job that requires a college degree. Then come back and tell us your ‘welfare queen’ story again.”


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