Marvin Olasky

Question: Even if states don’t show real improvement, isn’t it good for them anyway to have more flexibility in helping people get jobs? Sure, if that’s the goal, but you need to understand some history. Conservative welfare reformers in 1996 said a person on welfare should take any job, stick with it, demonstrate his capacity, and work his way up. Studies by groups like the Manpower Demonstration Research Project showed that “work works.” And lots of blue state social workers hated that approach.

Why? Many saw work demands as lacking compassion, since—they condescendingly thought—most people on welfare are unable to work. Many also thought high-functioning welfare recipients should go to school and take only jobs that right from the start paid a “living wage” and offered opportunities for creativity.

The new Obama regulations (TANF-ACF-IM-2010-03) are a blue wish come true. They say HHS will authorize states to set up (1) “career pathways models for TANF recipients that combine learning and work,” (2) “projects that test systematically extending the period in which vocational training or job search/readiness programs count toward participation rates,” and (3) “a comprehensive universal engagement system in lieu of certain participation rate requirements.”

Translation: Welfare recipients instead of working can take classes, exercise, go on errands, keep a journal, etc.—maybe even summarize their dreams about working. “Universal engagement” means that states can downgrade work requirements and keep getting federal dollars as long as everyone on welfare performs one of those activities for at least one hour each week. OK, fact-checkers: Who’s right? Yes, Obama did not order a gutting of work requirements, but his administration is urging liberal states to do that. Fact-check in the year 1170: Henry II did not order the murder of Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, but merely suggested to his knights that they rid him of such irritation—and they did.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit
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