Work With Dignity

REFERRING TO JULIE Polter’s Commentary, "Ending Welfare as We Know It," in your July 1994 issue, I’m disappointed that no one seems to be focusing on one very basic flaw in the current welfare system—that there is nothing in it to make recipients feel that they are contributing in any way to the welfare of their society—they are not "earning their keep." It is the sense of worthwhileness that is missing, a sense that is vital to people’s well-being.

I’m old enough to remember the Depression and the WPA and other such "make work" programs. Sure, the general populace made jokes about them, but they still provided a way of doing worthwhile work and earning a wage. Our town, Le Mars, has benefitted for decades from projects these workers finished. Right now, a park in our area is being finished by a Youth Conservation Corps funded by local governmental entities for a few weeks of useful work by a handful of kids.

I don’t think anyone, mother or not, should get a check without having to be responsible to someone for some kind of service—childcare for others, cleaning up their neighborhood, going to school, etc. These are not jobs that would displace work being done now—it’s work that no one is doing.

One of the reasons that so much "workfare" doesn’t work is that those in charge have a basic contempt for their clients; much of society does. It is this contempt and the hard-core anger that most of the populace feels for welfare recipients that will doom any piecemeal solutions to the problem.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1994
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