The Problem with Work Requirements

As part of debt limit negotiations, Republican members of Congress want to impose work requirements on individuals who get federal assistance like Medicaid, SNAP and TANF.

UpTogether strongly opposes work requirements because they harm people experiencing financial hardship. Here are the reasons behind our position:

Work Requirements Don’t Work

The stated goal of work requirements is to make sure people don’t need government assistance for too long. It’s based on the premise that people getting handouts are disincentivized to work.

But this approach is backwards.

Research shows people subjected to work requirements in nine states did not increase their employment or earnings. In places like Arkansas, work requirements denied people vital assistance to pay for food, medical care and other basic needs.

Work Requirements lead to the “Cliff Effect”

Work requirements drive the “cliff effect,” which disincentivizes socioeconomic mobility by punishing many families for their demonstrable ingenuity and tangible upward economic mobility. 

Rather than viewing pay raises, increased savings, and increased spending as good things that build economic stability and generational wealth, recipients are punished by cutting off aid once a modicum of financial success is achieved. Oftentimes, the result is that these individuals and families spiral backwards financially as the result of the rug being pulled out from under them.

Work Requirements Perpetuate Negative Stereotypes

Work requirements, historically rooted in racism, perpetuate negative perceptions of families in financially under-resourced communities as liabilities rather than assets.  In other words, low-resourced and limited wealth individuals and families are seen as deserving victims of their own poor lifestyle and work habits and lack of ingenuity. 

Many Jobs Have Low Pay and Poor Benefits

If we’re going to rely on work requirements for socioeconomic mobility, we need better jobs and we need to acknowledge the role of racism in exacerbating the wealth gap. Paid family and medical leave and retirement packages are generally only extended to executives, managerial and certain full-time employees, who are overwhelmingly white.

Black and Brown workers are overrepresented in the Gig Economy, which deprives workers of basic rights and the dignities of full employment. Racial disparities in pay, promotions, and opportunities in the labor market also fuel the racial wealth gap and also cost the U.S. trillions of dollars. 

Working itself can be expensive without support, as workers must pay for child care, transportation and clothing. 

U.S. Should Adopt Strength-Based Approach

Work requirements punish people with limited incomes, often prevent people from moving ahead, and deny people basic benefits they need to survive.

We suggest those debating the debt limit look to UpTogether’s strength-based approach. We see people for their strengths, invest in them and trust them to find their own pathways to socioeconomic mobility. We are working to change systems that perpetuate the status quo. Work requirements are part of the status quo that simply doesn’t work.

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