How does a country take care of the “least of these” that live within its borders?
The solution has been a system of welfare. For several generations, benefits have been given out to people so they can have basic services, such as food access, without charge. Funded through taxation, it is a way to help people who are between jobs, have a disability that prevents them from working, or are living in deep poverty.
It is also a system that can be abused, sometimes quite easily. That’s why the pros and cons of welfare are always worth taking the time to review.
Here Are the Pros of Welfare
1. It provides assistance to where it is needed the most.
People run into emergency situations and may go through their savings without the emergency relenting. A death in the family, a job that is lost unexpectedly, or a costly medical diagnosis can quickly eliminate household funds. By offering programs like WIC, SNAP, and Medicaid or Medicare, people can receive whatever assistance is needed to help them overcome whatever challenge is before them.
2. Most of the people served by welfare are children.
In the United States, 20% of children currently live in households which experience food insecurity at least one day per week. School-lunch programs can help to provide some of the resources that are needed, but it isn’t always enough to eliminate that insecurity. In 2013, 75% of TANF recipients were children.
3. Welfare programs can help to reduce crime.
People will do whatever it takes to have their basic needs met. If there is a lack of food and no supplemental resource available to them, then crime becomes an option. Well-designed welfare programs work to meet the basic needs of people while working to reduce the chances of fraud from occurring, making it possible to reduce crimes of desperation.
4. It is often limited.
In most nations which provide welfare benefits, there is a cap on the amount that is provided to households. Even when caps are not provided, there is a negative societal stigma associated with those who accept benefits instead of trying to find meaningful employment. In the US, there are limits, both in the amount and in the age of the recipient, that are in place so that people are encouraged to use welfare in a temporary manner.
5. Welfare is not available to undocumented workers.
Despite what is published elsewhere, in the United States, undocumented workers do not qualify for welfare. The US government does not provide any benefits to those without a work visa at the very least. In other countries, you may need to be a naturalized citizen to receive any welfare benefits that are available, including health care benefits.
Here Are the Cons of Welfare
1. Welfare doesn’t support the modern household.
In the US, the federal poverty level for an individual is $12,060 in 2017. For a married couple with one child, the poverty level is $20,420. Because household size is the determining factor for how people qualify, modern households are not often accommodated. A family of six, for example, qualifies at $32,960 in 2017, which means having one working parent making $16 per hour would disqualify them from many benefits.
2. It can create a system of abuse.
The goal of welfare is to provide resources when there is a need, but there will always be people who try to take advantage of this system. Although this is a small minority of most applicants, often below 1% in many areas, it is still a potential cost to taxpayers and abuse removes the aid that a household with a genuine need may be able to receive.
3. Welfare can create a pattern of dependence.
When multiple needs are being met, from housing to food assistance, then it can create a system of dependence for some individuals or households. When every need is being met, then there is no incentive for an individual to better themselves. They can receive the benefits each month and live off the dime of taxpayers. That is why many welfare programs look to put in limitations to the amount of access that is provided.
4. Many welfare programs don’t address the root cause of poverty.
We live in changing times. Some industries are fading away into history while new industries rise. People caught in this transition need new skills to provide for themselves. That is why many welfare programs are including job training provisions within the benefits being provided. Not every program offers this option, however, and that means people who were once skilled workers are now unskilled workers with few job opportunities.
5. Some countries have highly variable programs.
In the United States, every state has the ability to set their own rules regarding welfare. This also means that there is the possibility of some states offering welfare access programs and other states refusing to offer those programs. This can make it more difficult for some households to obtain the services they need and for which they may qualify for in other geographic areas.
6. It creates societal cliques.
Who deserves to receive welfare benefits in a society? The presence of a program creates a debate as to who should receive benefits. Does being an alcoholic disqualify someone from receiving benefits unless they are receiving treatment? What happens if that person cannot afford treatment? Should drug addiction stop welfare benefits? How long should someone receive unemployment benefits, even if they are trying to find a new job? These cliques create societal separation and that has the potential to polarize a country.
The pros and cons of welfare show that is can be useful to help those who are in need, but there must be controls in place to limit abuse. There will always be a debate about who deserves to receive welfare benefits. We must be able to move forward by evaluating these key points so that common ground can be found.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.