One of the prominent tenets of progressive welfare philosophy is that aid should be dispensed to all possible qualifiers without reference to the desirability of self-reliance, the social consequences of dependency or any reciprocal obligation on the part of beneficiaries. This attitude is reflected in a recent editorial that argues that strengthening work requirements for adults without dependents who receive food benefits will reduce the assistance those individuals are receiving (Our View, Dec. 5).

We heard exactly the same arguments before welfare reform in 1996, but predictions of increased destitution among beneficiaries proved to be unfounded then, and are unfounded now. A Brookings Institution report in 2006 found that increased work requirements resulted in higher employment, higher earnings and a sharp decline in welfare caseloads. One of the arguments in opposition to the 1996 reform was that it would throw over a million children into poverty. Instead, childhood poverty declined every year between 1994 and 2000. A study by Christopher Jencks and Scott Winship found that although the number of low-income mothers receiving welfare benefits fell sharply between 1995 and 1999, food insecurity also declined dramatically.

Rep. Chellie Pingree’s hyperbolic charges of cruelty are absurd. The prospect of hungry fellow citizens triggers compassionate impulses in most Americans, but there is no evidence that work requirements make things worse for aid recipients, and there is considerable evidence that increased work improves their lives. Compassion is a wonderful sentiment, but compassion that disdains the value of work, self-reliance and independence does nothing to reduce poverty.


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