“The great majority must labor at something productive”

Let me start with the opening quote, which is as sound today as when first stated at least 150 years ago. It’s from Abraham Lincoln:

“No country can sustain, in idleness, more than a small percentage of its numbers. The great majority must labor at something productive.”

I specially liked that he emphasised the need for the labour to be productive, i.e. value adding. Digging holes and then filling them in again may require effort, and might even seem like work, but it is not productive and therefore should be neither paid nor encouraged. Lincoln had probably read J.S. Mill, something no one any longer does. The article, though, is not really about this, but about getting people off welfare by insisting they not just go to work but do something productive.

According to a report from the Foundation for Government Accountability, before Kansas instituted a work requirement, 93 percent of food stamp recipients were in poverty, with 84 percent in severe poverty. Few of the food stamp recipients claimed any income. Only 21 percent were working at all, and two-fifths of those working were working fewer than 20 hours per week.

Once work requirements were established, thousands of food stamp recipients moved into the workforce, promoting income gains and a decrease in poverty. Forty percent of the individuals who left the food stamp ranks found employment within three months, and about 60 percent found employment within a year. They saw an average income increase of 127 percent. Half of those who left the rolls and are working have earnings above the poverty level. Even many of those who stayed on food stamps saw their income increase significantly.

The dignity of work is more than a cliche put around by those who pay taxes to fund the idleness of others.

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