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What Should America Do About the Welfare State?

Out-of-wedlock childbirth is at an historic high of 40 percent and means-tested welfare has grown faster than any other sector of government. Instead of throwing more money at the ever-expanding and fiscally unsustainable welfare state, Congress should implement practices that work to move people out of poverty, rather than those that do nothing but grow federal bureaucracies.

Since the 1960s, the United States has spent $15.9 trillion on welfare. And despite the current state of the nation’s debt, President Barack Obama plans to spend $10.3 trillion more over the next 10 years. The federal government should make fundamental changes that would decrease dependence and subsequently ease the burden on the nation’s ever-growing deficit. Reforms, such as those that took place in 1996, must be put in place if the United States ever hopes to get back on a track of financial stability.

These reforms should be based on the following principles:

1. Slowing the growth of the welfare state. After the recession ends, Congress should roll back welfare spending to pre-recession levels and then cap it at the rate of inflation.

2. Promoting personal responsibility and work. Similar to the TANF reforms, other large programs such as Food Stamps and housing assistance should include work requirements.

3. Providing a portion of welfare assistance as loans rather than as grants. Government assistance can incentivize behaviors that lead to increased dependence. To reduce this risk, some welfare assistance should switch from grants to loans that must be partially repaid.

4. Ending the welfare marriage penalty and encouraging marriage in low-income communities. The decreasing rate of marriage is the greatest cause of child poverty. Today, the out-of-wedlock birthrate in the United States is at an historic high. Marriage penalties, present in many current welfare programs, should be reduced or removed, and information on the importance of marriage should be provided in low-income communities.

5. Limit low-skill immigration. A significant portion (15 percent) of welfare spending goes to homes headed by lower skill immigrants with a high school degree or less. The government should limit immigration to those individuals who will be net fiscal contributors, meaning they will pay more in taxes than they take in benefits.

Throwing more money at the ever-growing behemoth that has become the U.S. welfare system will do nothing to improve the wellbeing of our nations poor. Instead, it will lead to increased dependence and unsustainable national spending. Congress must implement policies that attack the roots of poverty, instead of promoting it with more handouts. This is the only way the United States will produce self-reliant individuals and stable families: the greatest weapons against poverty.

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