Debt ceiling talks are focused on abstract “work requirements.” What these actually mean are not described in any detail. The unstated presumption is that people who receive government benefits do not work in some way because of those government benefits.
In reality, these “work requirements” do not make any sense. Unemployment, for example, is based on being able and available for work, not missing any work offered, a willingness to accept any jobs being offered to someone, and searching for work for each week unemployment benefits are being claimed.
Note: Unemployment is also not a employee benefit at all, but an employer insurance premium paid by employers to maintain consumer demand for an employer’s products.
Medicaid — health care coverage — occurs when someone is ill and needs medical care when that person lacks access to health insurance on their own. When people are ill, they should probably not also be trying to work. Forcing sick people to work simply makes no sense whatsoever. How does an elderly person in a nursing home suddenly have the ability to work?
Food stamps, or SNAP benefits, are to provide minimal groceries so that a person can live. These benefits do not pay the rent or put gas in the car, however, and so people who get SNAP benefits still need to work. Moreover, for the most part SNAP benefits are geared to children, and children under the age of 16 generally should not be working at all but going to school or summer camp or, if pre-school aged, being cared for their parents or in childcare.
Which gets to the biggest problem in how the parents of young children can enter the workplace — available and affordable child care. Child care simply is not nearly as available and as affordable as it needs to be in this state.
Work requirements as currently being proposed do not accomplish an actual increase in available workers and are generally a cynical effort just to cut benefits for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Why this push to make life harder for those with the least resources does have an economic motivation, however: to reduce wage growth and even to make wages decline.
Until recently, when boomers began leaving the workforce, wages in Wisconsin were stagnant and flat. The administrative sludge and hurdles created for unemployment claim-filing pushed people out of unemployment completely and into low-wage jobs as a substitute for unemployment benefits.
So, by making life harder for those receiving Medicaid or SNAP benefits, presumably the number of folks desperate for any kind of low wage work will expand. With this increase in the labor supply, the theory here is that there will be less pressure on all employers to raise wages in order to attract workers, simply because there will be more workers to chose from.
It is a terrible way to run a country. It also ignores the real reason why there is a shortage of workers in the first place: boomers are retiring and leaving the workforce completely. The administrative sludge for unemployment claim-filing may have worked for a time in Wisconsin in keeping wage growth in check relative to what happened in other nearby states like Minnesota, but this expansion of the sludge to other kinds of government benefits will not be nearly as effective now.
In Wisconsin, unemployment claim-filing is at record lows and declining even further at present. Yet, wages in the state are finally rising as employers attempt to find workers for more and more vacant jobs. Unemployment benefits simply do not matter anymore in a labor market where everyone who can work is already working and there are still major shortages in available workers. As a result, various proposals to make unemployment claim-filing even more difficult are essentially meaningless.
So, all of this work requirement discussion is going nowhere, other than to harm those with the least resources available to them. Wages will continue to increase. But, without available and affordable childcare, parents of infants and preschoolers will have to chose between being parents or being workers — a choice no modern society and one of the wealthiest countries to ever exist should be forcing on anyone.
Yet, in Wisconsin legislators are rejecting efforts to make childcare more affordable. So, nothing is being fixed or made better. At some point, people in Wisconsin will realize that there are opportunities and support for a better life in neighboring states like Minnesota and leave this kind of stupidity in Wisconsin behind.