Education and training: A new kind of welfare

In an era of political polarization and economic stagnation, welfare is a place for common ground. Photo: AP

LOS ANGELES, April 11, 2013 − In an era of mounting debt and deficits and skyrocketing costs of entitlements, it is difficult for politicians to find politically appealing ways to reduce government expenditures on our most popular, and expensive, programs. The outlays to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid seem to increase without end, with neither side able to gain momentum towards a solution.

There are some areas of Federal spending, however, where reform should be more possible. Reforming welfare and unemployment spending, for example, is one of them.

In a weak economy, more people are going to depend on social programs, for example unemployment insurance and welfare programs, than would normally be the case. In October of 2012 some 4.3 million Americans were on welfare, near 47 million on foodstamps and some 5.6 million on unemployment. A disproportionately high number of these recipients are minorities, and black Americans make up almost 40% of beneficiaries, while making up only 12% of the national population. In considering ways to improve the economic lot of African Americans and other impoverished peoples in our country, we must focus on creative ways to reform the spending which our poor people rely upon.

The solutions seemingly preferred by the far left and the far right wings of our political spectrum are inadequate. Very liberal Democrats often seem less interested in reasonable reform than they do in throwing more and more money at the problem of poverty and other social and economic issues. Yet the purist, fiscally conservative approach of across the board spending cuts in the areas of welfare and unemployment is not the right approach either.

In reforming welfare we do not want to make the left wing mistake of fostering further dependence on government spending, yet we do not want to make the right wing error of potentially eliminating millions of peoples and entire communities only means of subsistence.

There is a middle path, and that path is to reform welfare and unemployment spending to pay for educational, vocational or corporate retraining to make individuals fit and ready to re-enter a workforce where skill is increasingly necessary to compete and survive.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who negotiated the last comprehensive welfare reform package with President Bill Clinton in 1996, has pointed out repeatedly that it is absurd to give a person money in the form of unemployment for 90 plus just to have him immerge with nothing to show for it: “99 weeks is an associates degree.”

For those Americans whom are able bodied and of sound mind who are in a long term unemployment situation, it is both practical and humane to see to it that they receive some type of training and subsequent accreditation during the time in which they receive government assistance. To pay a man or woman for doing nothing encourages him to do continue in this fashion. It also makes it more difficult for him or her to find employment when the assistance expires. Employers do not look kindly upon long lapses in employment on a persons resume. It indicates that a persons skills have ossified, that he or she is not as ready for a position of responsibility as would be another individual whom has been going to school regularly, who is in the rhythm of waking up early each morning to work for eight hard hours five days a week.

The former approach is to invest in the skills and the success of the American people; the latter is to literally invest in the evaporation of our opportunity.

An approach of this kind would not call for any cuts in the current amount of money we spend on unemployment and welfare benefits, but would ultimately decrease the amount of money we spend in these areas by reducing the number of people who need assistance. The more skills and education the American people have, the more employable they become, the better the American economy becomes, and the less we ultimately need to provide assistance from the federal government to people in the long run. It is a way of looking at this problem that takes our conservative zeal for self-empowerment and weds it to our progressive sense of social responsibility.

It is yet another problem that will be solved when the American people finally begin to work together.

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John R. Wood, JR

A writer and musician from the Los Angeles area, John Randolph Wood, Jr. is the grandson of the late record industry pioneer Randy Wood, known for founding Dot Records in the 1950′s and the nationally broadcast radio show and mail order record store “The Randy’s Record Shop” before that. He is the son of John Wood, Sr., noted Jazz pianist and R&B vocalist Deonda Theus. John Wood, Jr. has worked in various fields, including marketing, the legal and medical industries, and also in politics. A student of theology, philosophy, history, economics and political science, he is currently running for congress in the 43rd district of California. He lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife and 2-year old son.



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