In the 1970s, conservatives, led by President Ronald Reagan, helped popularize the idea of the “Welfare Queen,” to highlight the supposedly swank, lackadaisical lifestyles of people receiving government assistance.* Since that image of the welfare queen took hold, every administration since, Republican and Democrat, has whittled away at public assistance as we knew it. And now, the narrative of the welfare queen is making a comeback with the Trump administration’s executive order requiring people who receive public assistance to work.
But is requiring people who receive public assistance to work really that unreasonable?
Actually, it is. Evidence analyzed by the Urban Institute shows that work requirements for people receiving public assistance are ineffective and “do more harm than good,” because they tend to push people into very low paying jobs that can’t pay them enough to relieve their need for assistance. In other words, work requirements keep people in a cycle of poverty, rather than ending that cycle.