A new study from The White House suggests that almost 70 percent of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – food stamps) recipients are able-bodied and working age but are not employed.
The President’s Council of Economic Advisors just released the results of the research, which shows the same results across several areas of social assistance.
Able-bodied, working-age (18-64) adults make up the majority of adult social assistance recipients, representing 67 percent of SNAP users, 61 percent of Medicaid recipients and 59 percent of rental housing assistance programs beneficiaries. Those numbers are based on fiscal year 2013. Of those, the vast majority do not work at all and most of the remainder work fewer than 20 hours per week.
The report said that today’s “low employment rates of non-disabled working-age recipients suggest that legislative changes requiring them to work and supporting their transition into the labor market…would affect a large share of adult beneficiaries and their children in these non-cash programs.”
In 2016, just under $704 billion was spent by the Federal and State governments on Medicaid, SNAP, housing assistance programs (including Section 8 housing vouchers, project housing and public housing) and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).
Number Of Recipients Has Soared
It’s been 54 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his “War On Poverty” and founded most of America’s social assistance network.
At that time, six percent of the U.S. population received Medicaid benefits. Now that number is 22 percent. Just 1 percent of U.S. households received food stamps in 1969. Now 13 percent of the population is enrolled in the SNAP program.
Since there were changes to most social program over the years, the White House council benchmarked the current study to 1979. Compared to that year, the percentage of the population receiving Medicaid, SNAP and housing assistance is 2.5, 1.7 and 1.3 times as high, respectively.
Poverty Level Unchanged Since 1969
Shockingly, the level of poverty in America has not changed much since the social safety net was installed.
While poverty rates plummeted between 1959-1969, when the first social assistance programs in America began rolling out at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, levels have remained fairly consistent since.
As of 2016, 12.7 percent of Americans — over 40 million people — fell below the poverty line (US Census Bureau 2017). That’s roughly equal to the poverty rate of 12.8 percent in 1968.
The White House council has a simple solution: It suggests legislation requiring able-bodied social assistance recipients be required to work in exchange for benefits.
The council report claims that the need for social assistance has mushroomed because welfare benefits “to those not expected to work were matched by the growth in programs that reduced the self-sufficiency of those expected to work.”
President Bill Clinton first tackled the issue with his “workfare” reforms of the 1990s. The council report gives credit for those reforms, but says they did not go far enough to break the cycle of dependence on social assistance programs in the able-bodied, working-age population.
The Council of Economic Advisors recommends that idea be revisited — and soon.
‘Now Is The Ideal Time…’
The correlation between low employment levels and receipt of welfare benefits “suggests it may be time for a renewed focus on increasing employment and reducing dependency, with expanding work requirements in non-cash safety net programs playing a key role,” the report says.
“Second, the current incentive structure in safety net programs already provides significant positive incentives to join the workforce; expanded work requirements would increase the incentive for individuals to work without exacerbating the high marginal tax rates faced by some current low-wage, part-time workers.
“Third, the evidence on welfare programs suggests that work-conditioned programs are uniquely able to both increase adult employment and improve child outcomes.
“Given the trends and evidence discussed here, along with a current economy in which labor markets are extremely tight, now is the ideal time to expand carefully designed work requirements to non-cash welfare programs.”
Click here to see the council’s full report.