Over the years every study of job training programs and workfare programs have shown them to be utter failures, yet they keep getting re-funded and expanded, year after year, just like Head Start. “Sure it’s a failure, but how would it look if we just stopped it?” So a bureaucracy builds of Head Start teachers, job trainers and, of course, administrators, all doing nothing but collecting a federal paycheck. We’re about to get more of the same. “No jobs for white male construction workers or professionals,” promises Robert Reich. No siree, we’re going after the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low, and we’ll raise them to the mountaintop! We don’t call the One the “Messiah” just for nothing, you know. He can make wine from water, skilled, motivated workers from drug addicts and brain surgeons from sixteen-year-old single mothers. Tall buildings in a single bound? You’re kidding, right?
Some curmudgeons don’t buy this stuff, but we’ve been outvoted. Still, just for the record, here’s one of them:
Of course, you don’t have to be an economist or statistician to recognize that the idea that the government can train and find productive employment for large numbers of its citizens, especially the long-term unemployed, just isn’t grounded in reality. It’s a fraud that leapfrogs socialism and goes directly to communism.
Let’s add it all up. Workfare doesn’t stimulate the economy. It doesn’t give participants new skills or increase their earning power. It doesn’t lift people out of poverty. And it often costs more than welfare. What exactly is the point?
In Roosevelt’s day, it was votes. Not just votes from individuals employed by the workfare programs, but also votes in Congress. WPA projects could be used to reward friendly politicians by directing funds and manpower to their districts.
In the 1990s, when Robert Reich was secretary of labor, workfare became corporate welfare. Instead of working directly for the government, low-income workers could be hired by private-sector employers in exchange for tax credits, in effect working for less than minimum wage. Of course, this helped hold down wages for other employees too.
Still, many liberals are opposed to the idea of workfare, mainly because it does require recipients to work. In their worldview, the poor are victims of the unjust free market system and shouldn’t be punished or have responsibility.
Some of the more astute liberal critics also recognize that workfare poisons the labor market. When companies or government agencies have access to cheap workfare labor, there’s no incentive for them to offer entry-level jobs. Unemployment increases and more people go on workfare. It becomes a never-ending cycle.
But that’s where the pure political genius of the Green Jobs Corps emerges. By presenting it as a welfare-to-work program with the objective of saving the environment, it is designed to appeal to the right, political center, and the left all at once. Then during election season, politicians can boast about the number of people they moved from welfare to work and the number of solar panels they installed on people’s roofs.
If you vote Democratic, maybe you’ll get a solar panel too. Installation and maintenance are always free in the workfare state. That’s because with more failed leftist economic policies in place, poverty and unemployment become the ultimate renewable resources.