MDRC in the News

G.O.P. Insists Making Poor People Work Lifts Them Up. Where’s the Proof?

Eduardo Porter, The New York Times

05/2018

There’s something almost eerie about the unwavering nature of the Republican system of belief.

The nationalists who propelled President Trump into office may appear locked in an existential battle with the party’s pro-trade globalists. In truth, the Republican Party is still driven by the two propositions that have guided it for decades: cutting government aid will free poor Americans to shake dependency and get ahead, and cutting taxes on the well-to-do will bring prosperity to all…..

…..Indeed, the administration’s ultimate goal is to attach work requirements to the entire social safety net. In the words of the president, “We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity.”

History, however, has proved that this doctrine, too, is mostly wrong. We have been here before, more than 20 years ago, when the embattled President Bill Clinton embraced the Republicans’ “welfare to work” strategy and replaced the federal program to aid poor families with children with a rash of state-managed programs that imposed stringent work requirements on beneficiaries…..

…..“What is crucial to understand is what we mean by success,” said Gordon Berlin, who runs the policy analysis firm MDRC. “Is the goal of welfare about reducing poverty or about reducing dependency?”…..

…..There is, in fact, a lot of research on what works and what doesn’t. Much of it was carried out by MDRC, which starting in the late 1980s conducted more than a dozen experiments in cities around the country to explore the consequences of different paths from welfare to work…..

…..MDRC also identified a series of programs to “make work pay.” Spending real money on training has been found to help workers escape dead-end jobs at low wages. I am not optimistic that these ideas will find their way into the policy mix, however. They just don’t fit in the Republican system of belief.

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