Evidence on work requirements and sanctions from the USA

A comment on a US press website led me to a report produced in Chicago by the Heartland Institute.   They are apparently convinced that what poor people in the USA really need is a boot up the backside.  “Successful welfare reform can save lives and produce positive effects on multiple generations. It can save taxpayers billions of dollars and help address such serious social maladies as crime, alcoholism, and teenage pregnancy.”  So, they have produced a state-by-state report card for the administrations that do the things they approve of, including sanctions, time limits, strict work requirements, “service integration” based on support programmes for deviant behaviour and trading off entitlement to benefit for a lump sum.  They then compare that to what’s been achieved in work participation, poverty reduction, numbers of claimants and so forth.  What their figures show, despite their initial assumptions, is that there is no visible relationship between the strictness of the regime that’s being operated and the outcomes.  If anything, from page 7, two of the top five states for implementing the policies they approve of are in the bottom five states for outcomes.

This isn’t what I’m currently working on.  I’ve been reading up about benefits in developing countries, and that literature gives me a very different view of conditionality.  “You cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots …  Cash transfers work.  … All the evidence is that people spend grant money wisely and that grants do not encourage people to be lazy or workshy.  … Giving people money is proving to be the best way to stimulate local economic developments in low income countries.”  By contrast, “there is almost no evidence that conditions make any difference.”  That’s from J Hanlon et al, Just give money to the poor, Kumarian Press 2010, pp 4,  173-4. and p 131.

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