Well, I believe I have conceived a better way. To make the change requires only three steps:
1. Abolish the present welfare system.
2. Repeal the minimum wage law.
3. Establish a Federal jobs program that guarantees a job to any adult American that wants one.
It works like this: If you need a job, the government will find something for you to do. Even if you're mentally retarded, physically disabled, have terrible body odor or whatever, a job will be found or created for you to do, 40 hours per week.
If, for some reason, you don't seem fitted for the task, you can apply to be assigned a different job. However, if you're simply too lazy to work, you can be fired -- and immediately reapply, of course, but you will actually have to do some work to get paid. You will be paid only for the hours you actually spend working at your assigned duties.
The salaries for those working in this program will be fixed, regardless of duties. If you don't like the pay, you can get a job with the private sector! The fixed pay rate will probably need to be adjusted occasionally. In general, if the percentage of the American population working under this program is too high, the pay rate should be lowered; if too low, the pay rate should be increased. The best procedure would probably be to vary this pay rate to hold the percentage of the American work force on the program within some range, much as the Feds presently vary interest rates to hold the economy in check.
Some of the consequences of such a program should be considered. First off, it's unlikely that this program will cost any more than the present welfare program costs. The poor are being helped either way; the only difference is that we are actually demanding some time and effort on their part in return. In fact, it's likely costs to taxpayers will go down -- many people currently feeding at the government trough will probably elect to support themselves by other means. Work is work, and as long as you gotta work to eat, you might as well work for the private sector as for the government.
Administrative costs will probably also go down. You see, some of the jobs assigned to these people will probably be administrating the program! In fact, much of the work presently being done by highly-paid government workers can probably be handled by people on this program at much lower salaries.
Here's a benefit that many people wouldn't recognize immediately: The people working under this program would actually feel better about the money they are receiving than welfare recipients do. They will feel they have earned it. The work ethic will be reinforced and strengthened, rather than eroded and undermined.
The effects are even more far-reaching: You know those guys standing at the intersections with the "will work for food" signs? Honk the horn and flip 'em off! If they really would work for food, they could apply with the gov't and get a job, guaranteed. Nobody in the country will ever again feel guilty when approached by panhandlers, and the result will be a drastic reduction in panhandling!
You know how the news is always reporting on the unemployment rate? Well, you'll never hear about it again. The unemployment rate is zero. If there is anyone in the country that isn't working, it's because he doesn't wanna work.
Step #2 abolished the minimum wage law. Obviously, the flat rate paid under the guaranteed jobs program effectively becomes a minimum wage. A worker can always get that much for his labor, so private employers will have to pay more to attract good employees.
This has the added benefit of forcing the government to put its money where its mouth is. In the past, Congress seemed to like to raise the minimum wage whenever it wanted some more votes from poor people. Never mind that employers actually had to foot the bill, nor the fact that the added costs were passed on to consumers so everyone paid. Now, if they wanna raise the minimum wage, they actually have to add it to the federal budget -- and hear about it from taxpayers.
Yes, it's likely that many of the jobs will be pointless, make-work tasks -- especially at first. But note that all of the benefits described above will result even if there is no useful work accomplished under this program. Actual productive work would simply be icing on the cake.
Will the program have problems? Sure! Will there be abuse, misuse, and corruption? Of course! But ask yourself this: Will it be better than our present welfare system?
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Of course, if you have questions or comments, you are welcome to send e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.