There’s a lot to celebrate in the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. President Donald Trump ended the first year of his presidency with 148,000 jobs gained in December and a maintained a low unemployment rate of 4.1 percent for the third straight month. Black unemployment is at a record low of 6.8 percent. Hirings have exceeded firings for the 87th straight month now.
In all of 2017, job creators in America created 2.06 million new jobs, bringing the unemployment rate down from 4.7 percent at the beginning of the year, albeit at a slower rate than in previous years. Slowed job growth is likely a sign that the Federal Reserve’s belief that the economy has neared full employment — the condition where virtually all who are able and willing to work can find jobs — is accurate.
Wage growth is still slow, but economists believe this is a result of older, better-paid workers retiring and younger, lower-paid workers being hired to replace them. With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act set to begin taking effect, wages are expected to rise, though not immediately.
But there is one detail in the jobs report that suggests there is still room for improvement. The labor force participation rate, which is a measure of how many people are employed or actively seeking work compared to the whole population (not just those looking for work), is 62.7 percent. According to the report, this is “unchanged over the month and over the year.” In total numbers, there are 96,230,000 Americans who are not in the labor force, which is an increase of 456,000 since President Obama’s last year in office.
Some of the increase in people exiting the labor force can be attributed to aging baby boomers seeking retirement. But there were 48,000 more discouraged workers since December 2016, and the percentage of Americans participating in the labor force who are of “prime age” — 24 to 54 years-old — remains under pre-recession levels though showing improvement.
The workforce needs to be strengthened, and the most effective way to achieve higher labor force participation is to reduce dependency on welfare programs and encourage people to get back to work. Adding work requirements to food stamps and other benefits has demonstrated success.
Already under the Trump administration, the number of people collecting food stamps has declined by over two million. Fox News reports that significant decreases in the number of Americans accepting food stamps and SNAP benefits followed several states reinstating work requirements for welfare after waiving these requirements during the Great Recession. After these work requirements were reinstated, many individuals who stopped receiving benefits found work and dramatically increased their incomes.
In the state of Kansas, for example, there was a 75 percent decrease in welfare beneficiaries after work requirements were implemented in 2013. Nearly 60 percent of these former beneficiaries found employment within 12 months, and their incomes went up by an average of 127 percent per year. When the government told people to get a job, they got off the government dole.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., aims to follow the lead of these states, desiring to repeat in 2018 the strong conservative success of welfare reform in the 1990s.
“We have a welfare system that’s trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work,” Ryan said in December. “We’ve got to work on that.”
The Trump administration is likewise set to release guidelines for requiring Medicaid recipients to work, permitting state governments to add work requirements to their Medicaid programs for the first time.
“Believing that community engagement requirements do not support or promote the objectives of Medicaid is a tragic example of the soft bigotry of low expectations consistently espoused by the prior administration,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma said. “Those days are over.”
There is resistance, however, in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has indicated that welfare reform will not be on the agenda in 2018, while other Senate Republicans have demurred on having a controversial fight over welfare and entitlements, favoring a shift to “bipartisan” efforts at passing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
Work requirements for welfare and entitlement programs are hallmark conservative policies that have demonstrated effectiveness in strengthening the workforce, increasing labor participation, reducing dependency on welfare, and relieving the burden of government spending. With President Trump’s administration favoring work requirements and House Republicans apparently ready to go, it is shameful that the Republican majority in the Senate would relinquish yet another opportunity to achieve lasting conservative reform.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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