Letter: Social safety net discourages working

By Matthew Allen

NORWALK, Conn. – Minimum wage workers strike across the country for a higher minimum wage. But the problem here is much the same as it is in a number of areas outside the fast food industry. These jobs were never intended to be positions where someone is able to support a family. Or even support themselves as an adult out on their own. These were not designed to be “bread winner” positions. These were jobs that used to be held by kids on a part-time basis, seniors looking to augment their fixed incomes, or others just taking a job for some extra money.

Unfortunately, jobs for unskilled workers are harder to come by. Let’s get real, jobs for even skilled workers are harder to come by given the lousy economic environment, productivity advances leading to changes in hiring needs and an overall tight job market. Hence, we have even jobs like flipping burgers become “real” jobs out of necessity. Is it any surprise the issue arises that the pay for these types of jobs, even ones that provide full-time hours, is insufficient to support the individuals themselves, let alone any who have families. 

We face a very difficult dilemma with regard to jobs in this country. It is exacerbated, if not outright created, by the nexus of social welfare and immigration, legal and illegal. In many states, the current minimum wage provides benefits that are below the level a recipient can derive from the cocktail of government benefits related to the social safety net. Between welfare, Medicaid, food assistance, housing assistance, as well as benefits built into the tax code, we have created a system where many are better off simply not taking a job and just riding the system. This is unacceptable. We need to reward those people who choose to work and not penalize them for doing so. But as long as the payout from the government for doing nothing exceeds what can be earned in an entry-level or minimum wage position, that is exactly what we are doing.

Immigration and illegal immigration also play a significant role. We no longer need to import unskilled labor at the rate we once did, if we have to import any at all. We outsource enough jobs overseas that it is almost economic lunacy to think we need to import unskilled/low-skilled workers to our own shores, while paying existing residents to do nothing. We have an excess supply of unskilled/low-skilled potential workers in this country. Likewise, there should be no job that is beneath a legal worker and thus requiring an illegal worker to get it done. No job.

Perhaps raising the minimum wage is not the answer. Or at least not the full answer. If we are unwilling to increase the minimum wage to a living wage, perhaps we need to find a combination of wages plus government assistance that brings working individuals up to that living wage level. If society is unwilling to pay the higher prices for goods and services that will be passed along due to an increase in wage expenses, then perhaps we would all turn a blind eye to the taxes we pay being redistributed to workers at the low end of the scale. The fact is we are already doing that now, except those receiving benefits are generating little to no productivity in return for their benefits. We need to reward legal workers who are willing and able to take a job far more than citizens who are unwilling to take a job.

Further, we also need to stop enticing unskilled immigrants to enter this country and create further competition for these low-paying jobs. As a side note, if you want to significantly reduce the level of illegal immigration into this country, get serious about drying up the primary reason they come here: low paying jobs that some American workers are unwilling to take because social safety benefits exceed their value. It is a vicious, downward spiral that needs to be rectified very, very soon.

One final note: For those party-affiliated readers out there that think this is an attack on the free market system, or conversely, that raising a voice on immigration is taboo, let me remind you both of something. We are paying for this broken system now with our taxes. The free market is already being forced to support an ever growing class of individuals who are unproductive and that is very much not sound economic policy related to a functioning free market. As to immigration, if your party is supporting an immigration reform that will result in the legalization of millions of illegal workers and also not create tight controls to limit the entry of future legal and illegal workers, just know that it is the jobs of the workers who went on strike that these foreign workers are coming for.

Matthew Allen


15 responses to “Letter: Social safety net discourages working”

  1. Welfare Queen

    I don’t need you changing anything. The system is working just fine. I collect four checks under four different names and I subsidize that income with whatever convict is on release that month by putting him up in my government paid for house. He might be the father of one of my kids, but I lose track. I think he like my kids, but then they are on their own and that is the school’s job so who cares? The system you have created is just perfect. Leave it alone.

  2. Ryan

    Finally I think someone else gets it. There may be hope after all.
    How about drug screening to get your govt handout?

  3. Independent Voter

    How about drug screening for the big business owners who rely on cheap undocumented workers so they can avoid paying minimum wage (and politicians that they’ve bought that keep the system broken)?

  4. M. Murray’s

    Drug screening is a great idea. The problem with our welfare support system is that it is no longer just a safety net, it provides a reasonably comfortable standard of living. It provides more than mere necessity. Being comfortable does not motivate change. Neither does not answering to anyone about getting and spending the money. Before our welfare security net, people were assisted by their family, their neighbors, and their church, there was some accountability to them on how you spent your money and how hard you tried to find a job. Give a man a fish he eats for a day.

  5. Suzanne

    The welfare versus work phenomena is not new: thirty years ago, my father had a tenant staying in the home adjacent to ours on our family farm. The gentleman renting did the math: he could go to work or he could accept welfare and he did the latter. It made more economic sense to him given his opportunities to work, at that time, at farm labor which has consistently paid at below market rates. (My father was apoplectic.)

    In theory, Mr. Allen may be right but I have in the last two years experienced a contractor hiring labor for very hard physical landscape work. The immigrants get up every day, come to work dressed properly prepared for their lunch breaks, accept their pay, and work themselves very hard and very consistently to get the job done. The kid on summer break and the man looking for a job and out of work did not last three days under this tough regime.

    Likewise, farm workers, most of whom are not legal in California, bring your food to the table. When the borders were tightened from Mexico to California last year, there was no one, no one who would step up without a job and who needed one, to pick the crops. Almond and tomato farmers in particular were hit hard and some lost their crops.

    By the way, the workers in landscaping that I know of in this area are paid well above minimum wage. They depend on their income and so do their families. I have never met one who would not rather be in their countries of origin with their families. They travel thousands of miles at great risk for survival so our developed country gets to live with nice lawns, stone walls, pools, cleared forests, cut trees, etc. The value of their work will only be realized when we don’t see the immigrant available to do the work. Will CT residents without jobs step up? Not in my experience.

    The gravy train of benefits may seem exorbitant to most who do not want to share their taxes with the less fortunate or, to some minds, the lazy and addicted. But, I think the safety net it represents to more is valuable. Those who are disabled, for example, receive barely enough to live through disability programs and often are inches away from homelessness, a far more expensive option to our social network than welfare. Likewise, the last I checked, the greatest beneficiary of welfare benefits were single mothers and mostly Caucasian with the stereotypes people think of in terms of welfare left far behind statistically (though I would definitely want to know if that still holds true.)

    The generational welfare family, the intransigent welfare recipients who beggar the system exist and this is unfortunate. However, I would guess that those who cheat on their taxes, also unfortunate, exist at a rate that would appall as well. Other “cheaters” would include the ID Theft racket that costs this country billions a year: my particular doppelganger has stolen my ID and gotten away with it for ten years. She was finally arrested last September, arraigned in February and will not receive sentencing until this November. That, folks, is costing us all money including small businesses and large as well as in the taxes we pay.

    This is a complicated issue, generations old. The immigrant may be a part of the problem as may be the illegal worker and welfare recipient. But that is not the total picture and any solution presented that makes it seem that way is simplistic, I am afraid, and not going to put one dent in the “system” as it currently tumbles along.

  6. Dennis DeManis

    Welfare cheating and immigrant labor didn’t used to matter so much, because in spite of such activity there were still enough resources to go around.

    But now…

    Middle class jobs all went overseas. Our wealth distribution curve is now that of a third world country. Banks, insurance companies corporate higher-ups, and Wall St. wiseguys looted the country–with the assistance of public office-holders. The thieves hold all the cards today.

  7. Alexis

    With regard to low wages at places like McDonald’s and Burger King, unlike the past 20-30 years ago, they are no longer the domain of teens. Due to the lack of jobs because of private companies hoarding their money and not hiring, many adults in their 30’s with families work at fast food jobs to support their families.

    Moreover, a retail conglomerate like Walmart pays their employees very low wages, so that many of them can qualify for government subsidies, and the Walmart executives know this. For example, the typical Walmart employee who works full-time may earn about 30k which is low enough for a family of four to qualify for SNAP (supplemental food assistance program),and perhaps Medicaid. So, the taxpayers foot the bill for this subsidy. If Walmart paid paid their workers a living wage, the workers wouldn’t need government services.Or Walmart needs to pay more taxes so that they can subsidize the government benefits that many of their employees need to survive.

  8. Dennis DeManis

    It’s ironic: the fast food is minimally nutritious junk, and the majority of Walmart’s goods are inferior sub-standard products.

  9. Ace22

    Alexis, great point!!!

  10. NorwalkLifer

    Did you know that the single largest group of welfare recipients in the united states are walmart employees? Perhaps if we paid these people a living wage, walmart could stop taking advantage of subsidized cheap labor and be forced to contribute to the economy as oppoed to their execs pockets.

    My guess is that matt allen has never had to rely on a mininum wage job for a living. I’m sure that if he did, he’d be singing a different tune.

  11. Welfare Queen

    NorwalkLifer, my guess is that the OP did indeed have a minimum wage job at some point in high school or another job that he didn’t like. My guess is that he chose to work his but off and develop skills that earn him a job that pays more than minimum wage. That is what you are supposed to do in order for society to work. Our society is not working because people chose not to work hard and we chose to reward that behavior. Were Walmart forced to pay more, they would find more ways to automate and you’d see a reduction in available jobs. In spite of this, the poorest of the poor in this country are fabulously better off than most of the world’s citizens.

  12. Suzanne

    “…the poorest of the poor in this country are fabulously better off than most of the world’s citizens.” “Fabulously” is a stretch and I wonder if this is the standard we would like to use for our poorest citizenry. I, for one, would not like to see shack villages and people living under plastic on city streets.

  13. RU4REEL

    What about American companies shipping jobs overseas and still obtaining huge tax breaks from our government?

  14. Alexis


    Your comment is why the government is in debt. Shipping jobs overseas is bad for America. First, it decreases the tax base. Second, it’s a way for American companies to take advantage of cheap labor so that they can continue to stockpile money while not hiring employees, and provide additional profits to their stockholders. So what is the answer? Modify the tax code so the corporate thieves pay their fair share to fund all of the resources that they use, i.e., roads, bridges, human capital, etc. To make matters worse, in their quest to get re-elected for fear of being counted among the unemployed (most of these folks couldn’t locate work in this job market and they know it), congress and/or politicians are resistant to ask for additional tax revenue from the average citizen for fear they won’t get re-elected to a job that we pay for! Instead, the U.S. has to borrow money from China to pay our debt,and the money needs to be paid back soon.

  15. Welfare Queen

    Thanks Suzanne. Not only are you paying for my groceries, rent, cable, cell phone, and pocket money, booze and smokes, but I have a shiny new Lexus that you are paying for and now you’ll be paying for my health care. You really work for me and you don’t even know it. You’ll be living in a tin hut long before I will.

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