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Enough About the So-Called “Welfare Cliff.” What About the Welfare Pit?

Hardly a welfare debate goes by without some mention of an imaginary welfare cliff—as if most welfare enrollees are teetering on the edge of losing benefits if their incomes increase. But the truth is, most welfare enrollees are nowhere near the income eligibility limit. Instead, they are stuck in a welfare pit.

A new research paper from the Foundation for Government Accountability refutes the claim by many in Washington, D.C., that welfare beneficiaries largely turn down work opportunities out of fear of losing benefits and highlights the fact that most able-bodied adults on welfare do not work at all and are trapped in welfare dependency.

As policy director Sam Adolphsen points out in the paper: “Just one percent of able-bodied adults on food stamps—191,000 adults nationally—are within even 10 percentage points of the eligibility limit.” Meanwhile, 64 percent of working-age able-bodied, childless adults do not work at all, and just seven percent work full time. The majority of individuals aren’t near an income “cliff”—they’re not working. And the contrast is striking.

Major welfare programs like food stamps and Medicaid have sliding scales of support based upon beneficiaries’ income, yet lawmakers continue to advance the “cliff” myth to secure an expansion of welfare benefits. Instead, they should focus on the power of work to restore individuals’ independence.

As Adolphsen explains, earned income is more valuable than a welfare check. Work provides dignity and purpose and encourages community engagement. And having a job increases someone’s ability to secure an even better job in the future. Work has the power to impact everything from an individual’s recovery from substance abuse to generational change by setting an example of independence, yet work is overlooked as the real solution to help those stuck in dependency.

As lawmakers have failed to emphasize work, countless able-bodied adults are trapped in welfare dependency—and all while our economy is buckling under the stress of a worker shortage.

Research continues to prove that work requirements lift people up and out of dependency and should be the focus of welfare reform. As the paper notes, thousands of individuals leaving welfare saw their incomes more than double once Maine reinstated work requirements in 2014. And when Florida enacted work requirements in 2016, the number of able-bodied adults without dependents on food stamps dropped by 94 percent. Floridians leaving welfare for work found jobs in more than 1,100 industries.

The bottom line: Lawmakers who are serious about helping people out of the cycle of dependency must emphasize work as a condition of receiving welfare benefits.

At FGA, we don’t just talk about changing policy—we make it happen.

By partnering with FGA through a gift, you can create more policy change that returns America to a country where entrepreneurship thrives, personal responsibility is rewarded, and paychecks replace welfare checks.