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Social Programs Damage Character

My direct experience with social programs consists of collecting unemployment 20 years ago for about three months. As short a time as this was, it showed me some of the problems that are inherent in programs which are supposed to help people. Basically, it made me not want to work.

The way in which unemployment benefits were paid at the time allowed for a claimant to make up to half of his or her benefit rate without reducing the benefit. In other words, since I was collecting 0 per week, I could make up to in income without a reduction in my unemployment check. I worked one day per week, which netted me about , so I was getting the whole amount.

Then an offer for some work came in. I could work for another day per week and make about . The problem was that if I took the job, my income would pass that 50% mark in relation to my unemployment benefit. When that happens, the benefit is reduced by half. In other words, if I made more, I would lose . In effect I would actually have to pay to work that day. I wasn't thrilled, and I said no.

These kinds of decisions are common for recipients of various tax-supported benefits. I personally know several people who stayed on unemployment for months more than necessary because it was easier than working, even thought there were jobs available. I also know some mothers who had more children specifically to get more welfare benefits.

Character Corruption

It is hard to make any logical argument for working when you don't have to. It is difficult for a woman on welfare to consider marriage when staying unmarried means her live in boyfriend's income won't affect her welfare check. People regularly decide to limit their income in order not to lose rent subsidies.

These problems are not myths perpetuated by anti-welfare politicians. For those who, like myself, have spent some part of our lives at low income and know many who are poor, the evidence is all around. These are real effects of social programs.

When people are rewarded for non-productive behavior and lifestyles, these become more common. When people are punished for being productive and self-supporting, these things become less common. These are not surprising conclusions. They also do not point to people as the problem, but to the social programs that hand out rewards and punishments.

The nature of the programs is what has to be changed, then. What kinds of changes are needed. In general we have to find ways to help those who truly need help, without training them to have bad habits and approaches to life. We need to reward independence and the behaviors that lead to it, and punish or at least take away any profit for dependency and behaviors that perpetuate it.

The specific measures needed is a subject of its own. They might include training people to manage money and find jobs. Direct aid in the form of food and clothing for children - instead of money or food stamps - might take away the profit incentive a single mother has for having more children she can't feed and house on her own. A system that handed out a cash reward for quickly finding a new job might encourage those on unemployment to try harder to find employment.

Many of the changes required will probably cost more money per recipient to administer than the existing programs. However, if they are more effective programs, they should lower the cost of the overall program in time, because they would help encourage more individual responsibility and independence, and therefore less need for the help. The other result is likely to be happier people - people who are no longer suffering the personal psychological and character damage that being in a social program can cause.

About the Author: Copyright Steve Gillman. For inventions, new product ideas, business ideas, story ideas, political and economic theories, deep thoughts, and a free course on How To Have New Ideas, visit :

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