Myth: People on welfare are lazy and stupid bums.
Fact: Studies overwhelmingly show people prefer work to welfare.
A General Accounting Office summary of over 100 studies found that
welfare does not significantly reduce the desire to work. The reason is because
welfare payments often do not cover the bare necessities of living. People
can't enjoy being lazy when they're stressed out about surviving.
Many studies show that welfare recipients find welfare degrading
and demoralizing, and greatly prefer the chance to work. (1) In fact, in
March 1987, the General Accounting Office released a report that summarized
more than one hundred studies of welfare since 1975. It found that
"research does not support the view" that welfare significantly
reduces the incentive to work. (2) This may seem contrary to common sense,
but, as Norman Goodman points out in Introduction to Sociology:
"Many 'common sense' beliefs are simply untrue. For example, many
believe… that most people on welfare really don't want to work. [This is]
Again, there is no "incentive" for lazy people to enroll
in welfare because the payments do not allow families to make ends meet.
One study of Chicago welfare mothers found that their family's rent and
utilities cost $37 more than the welfare check. Even for those few who
received housing assistance, that left only $160 to cover all other monthly
expenses, such as transportation, clothing, hygiene and school supplies.
The typical food stamp allowance was insufficient, and many recipients
actually went hungry near the end of the month. To make ends meet, the
mothers had to receive income from somewhere else. Some of this came from
absent fathers, friends and relatives, but almost half came from work --
work that typically paid $3 to $5 an hour. The authors of the study concluded
that "single mothers do not turn to welfare because they are pathologically
dependent on handouts or unusually reluctant to work. They do so because
they cannot get jobs that pay better than welfare." (4)
Return to Overview
1. Joe Davidson, "Welfare Mothers Stress Importance of Building
Self-Esteem If Aid System Is to Be Restructured," Wall Street Journal,
May 12, 1995, p. A14.
2. The GOA report was summarized in Frances Piven and Richard Cloward,
"The Historical Sources of the Contemporary Relief Debate," The
Mean Season: The Attack on the Welfare State, Fred Block, Richard Cloward,
Barbara Ehrenriech and France Piven, eds., (New York: Pantheon, 1987),
3. Norman Goodman, Introduction to Sociology (New York: HarperCollins,
1992), p. 5.
4. Christopher Jencks, Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty,
and the Underclass (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991),