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LETTER: Unskilled workers turn to welfare for support

To the Editor:

Public welfare is a societal invention requiring that people who work support those who do not. More important than the resentment this causes in some—and the loss-of-dignity it causes in others—it is wasteful and inefficient. Our society should, with minimal government interference, employ as much of its population as possible and enable individuals, each selfishly striving in their own self-interest, to benefit society as a whole.

Contrary to common belief, recipients who prefer not to work are a decreasing segment of the welfare population. For most, the reasons for unemployment are more complex. Many jobless lack the skills and education necessary for vacancies that plead for applicants.

Bill Gates, in a radio interview, stated that he offers a six-figure package for any qualified college graduate. But because there are insufficient applicants, he has to build and hire outside the U.S. It has been projected that by 2020 there will be 130 million high-skilled and high-paying jobs available, but only 50 million Americans qualified to fill them.

Our societal problem is not welfare, which is a symptom, nor is it a lack of jobs: it is a lack of qualified applicants and their consequential unemployment.

This failure to produce qualified applicants is because, both nationally and locally, there is an undeniable failure of public education. This failure shares characteristics with a tobacco addiction; even when recognized as ultimately debilitating or fatal, there is a reassuring belief that neither an additional day’s delay nor a single additional cigarette will produce calamitous consequences. Unfortunately, for both, even an immediate decision to initiate change will not repair damages already sustained.

For public education, even after rehabilitating steps have begun, it will likely take a decade or more to correct, and it will be too late for all but the youngest now in school.

Even if public education is saved, there will always be some incapable of earning a living wage. These unfortunates are easily identified in the marketplace where they are harshly judged. Employers, like children choosing sides for a baseball game, will choose the least capable last. When occasionally hired, they will be judged, let go and will accumulate, at best, a sporadic work history.

Only capable of unskilled work, their lack of innate ability will not be solved by government-sponsored job training. Even after training, they will continue to be passed over, just as before, and always and—as it should be—in favor of those with greater ability.

So we have unemployed people who would prefer to work, but can’t, some because they are unqualified and some because there is a shrinking need for full-time unskilled workers. Even when there is a vacancy, the pay is insufficient to support a family. Accordingly, public welfare, which will adequately support a family and which also includes medical benefits, becomes the preferential choice. Because returning to work means accepting a lower standard of living and causes families a hardship, there is insufficient motivation to leave welfare.

Society should make working more attractive by making public welfare less attractive. But since, as a society, we empathize and care for others, we will and must provide some public support for the unemployed. This support should be less than now provided.

It should not support the purchase of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, wide-screen televisions, cell phones or the many recent luxuries of modern life. We should allow our welfare recipients, without interference or penalty, to augment their income through part-time work wherever available, whether it is shoveling driveways, running errands, baby-sitting or any of the myriad ways that a few dollars can be made. It would be through this employment, through this gleaning of small residual jobs, that welfare recipients might improve their lives while benefitting society.

Dick Sabine

Lewiston

 

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