Should people who receive welfare benefits from the government be required to work? There are at least two ways to consider that question.
The first is from the perspective of technical economics. Do work requirements lead to higher rates of employment for welfare beneficiaries? Does a lack of such requirements discourage work? The second is a matter of moral philosophy. Michael R. Strain argues that it’s the latter approach that should be our starting point when considering welfare policy:
Whom does society expect to work? In an ethical or cultural sense, should a man in his 30s or 40s without prohibitive health conditions or young children in the home be working? Does that man owe some share of his creativity and energy to the rest of society? Or is it nobody’s business but his whether he works? Rather than requiring work as part of a social contract that includes a safety net, should society view not working as a valid, private, personal decision?
The answers to those questions can’t be generated by a regression equation. And they are fundamental to the debate over work requirements. The questions don’t get much easier when you begin to consider policies for low-income households. What is the underlying nature of these programs?