Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Hard to Break the Welfare Habit

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

It's Hard to Break the Welfare Habit

Article excerpt

Years ago, a few people figured it out. Trying to make it on a tiny family farm is desperate work; sharecropping is worse, and there's not much employment to be had in the nearby towns. But I've heard (there are good union jobs to be had in the steel industry. I think I'll save up bus fare, ask my cousin to put me up for a while, and head to Pittsburgh.

That calculus, multiplied thousands of times, produced a South-to-North, farm-to-city migration that continued even after the decline of both unions and the steel industry took away much of the logic.

It happens that way. Decisions reached with some deliberation by a few become patterns for the many, building habits that survive even after the reasons for them have been forgotten. It will almost certainly happen that way with welfare reform. It may be inappropriate to compare long-term welfare recipients with refugees from the tenant farms. But they do have in common that they availed themselves of the best options they were able to perceive - and that the choices of some become habits for others. The logic of welfare reform - welfare repeal, some call it - is that the best way to force better choices is to reduce the number of bad options. If it becomes a matter of work or starve, the reasoning goes, everybody will work. But for many long-term recipients, nonwork is the product of habit rather than calculation. Thousands of people, I'm convinced, are afraid of work, in the sense that they doubt their ability to survive in a world that demands skills and attitudes they may lack. They may talk of being unwilling to work for entry-level "chump change," but what frightens them may be the demands of the workplace and not the low pay. What can be done? "What we need is to establish a new migratory pattern," Robert L. Woodson Sr. said in an intrview. "The people who went from rural Mississippi to Detroit did so because they kept getting positive feedback from those who'd already made the trip. The photographs, the sophistication, the Cadillacs rented for trips back home - all these produced a culture of expectation. People looked and said, `Hey, he's no smarter than I am. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.