“I believe the best social program is a job.”

These famous words, as uttered by the late President Reagan, still echo with conservatives and the Republican Party today.  However, these aren’t ideals strictly beholden to conservatives or the right of center.  Our founding fathers believed that free will and the ability to work were freedoms we all should hold sacred.  Men like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson believed that a person’s career shaped their character.  President John F. Kennedy, an inspirational leader for both the Democratic Party and the United States, famously stated in his inaugural “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

This thought is all but lost on our current administration.  In a major recession like the one that began in 2007, increases in welfare programs aren’t surprising.  The difference is the continual expansion of these programs after the recession has ended.  Under the Obama Administration, welfare spending has jumped 32%, representing the largest amount of federal spending by our government.

To truly appreciate this spike in entitlement spending, we have to consider their origins.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with the creation of Social Security through his signing of the Social Security Act.  This was created to fight high unemployment, but has now grown into a safety net for retirees.  The “Great Society” of Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s featured an increase in entitlement programs, including the creation of Medicare in 1965.  While President Ronald Reagan attempted to reform these programs, he wasn’t widely successful because of opposition from Congressional leaders.

President Clinton famously stated “the era of big government is over” in his 1996 inaugural address.  As part of a promise he made on the 1992 campaign trail, President Clinton signed a bill that eliminated the national “welfare” program and gave states expanded control over entitlement programs.  Realistically, the measure temporarily halted some of the massive benefits the government gave out, and in some ways it simply spread them across state governments.

All of these programs had strict provisions when they were created, but have now created a “manipulation effect.”  Here in West Virginia, users can jump from giveaway program to giveaway program.  Keep in mind that this doesn’t include private charities (soup kitchens, free coat drives for the underprivileged, etc.).  Instead, they are government programs specifically created to keep people afloat during hard times.

Unfortunately, these programs have done the opposite of their intentions.  People who are laid off, or who simply don’t want to work anymore, can gather benefits such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Housing Under Development (HUD), State Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and much more.  In Europe, this is a problem plaguing their economy.  Countries like Spain have shown the effects of continuously growing entitlement programs without serious restrictions.  Sadly, 55% of Spain’s Millennials are unemployed. 

Welfare isn’t something new. It wasn’t created under President Obama, and it almost certainly isn’t going to end under the President.  Yet, there are warnings of what will happen if our country continues to elect liberal policymakers.  The Sequester represented a trivial cut in spending – only 2.4% of the total spending President Obama and Senate Democrats proposed.  When the sequestration effects were realized, progressives went into a tailspin.  Liberal Senators and the President referred to “Draconian cuts” that would have horrible, irreversible consequences.

The reality is that the President and those in the Obama Administration did all they could to make these rather insignificant cuts public.  In response to the “harsh” effects of the sequester, President Obama cancelled White House tours for children indefinitely.  At the same time, he attended a golf game with athlete Tiger Woods that could have covered a year’s worth of White House tours.

Why would a president or political party want to keep people in poverty by expanding entitlement spending?  There are two explanations for this, each as unnerving as the other.

The first is that legislators legitimately believe they’re helping the underprivileged by growing these programs.  This idea is naïve in every sense of the word. It’s a known fact that by growing government programs designed for help, we’re actually just creating a system where nothing is required in return for free aid.  The free rider effect occurs, and people have no incentive to work.  Why begin the job search with a minimum wage job when the government can pay you more?

The second explanation is that liberal legislators like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama know by keeping so many shackled to these programs, they’re guaranteed a voter base for life.  Programs that explicitly target poor, youth and minorities to enroll for government benefits are heralded by these leaders in return for keeping them in power. It’s no wonder Democrat leaders aren’t making a serious effort to reform them.  This is Statism at its finest.

Free citizens have to decide what politicians like President Obama or Majority Leader Harry Reid care about – helping those in need, or helping themselves?


Aaron Kidd | Marshall University | @akiddwv