BEYOND ENTITLEMENT: The Social Obligations of Citizenship by Lawrence M. Mead

BEYOND ENTITLEMENT: The Social Obligations of Citizenship

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A provocative brief for the beguiling notion that welfare programs must require work as well as offer support if benefit recipients ""are to be integrated (into society) and not just subsidized."" Mead (an NYU professor and sometime policy analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services) argues that well-intentioned--and increasingly burdensome--federal programs (in particular, AFDC) tend to shield recipients from the rewards as well as risks of the private sector. Conceding uncertainty as to how exacting standards should be, he nonetheless recommends imposing employment obligations on the able-bodied poor to help them escape dependency. Members of the underclasse says, need rights and responsibilities if they are to move into the socioeconomic mainstream on anything like an equal footing. In recapping the efforts of Washington to achieve substantive welfare reform, Mead concludes that neither conservatives nor liberals have been quite willing to apply federal power ""in a benevolent, directive way."" Traditionally, he observes, Republicans have sought to exercise authority without programs, Democrats the reverse. Between these polarized positions is a middle ground; among its more articulate champions is Representative Martha Griffiths (D., Mich.) who favors balancing duties against entitlements. Washington must set the policy pace, Mead maintains, in part on the basis of his own studies of how AFDC's work incentive program was administered by local welfare offices in New York State. Permissively dispensed benefits have made employment increasingly elective for the poor, he charges, and many welfare recipients decline available jobs because of essentially invalid reasons. Admitting that the idea of compelling people to function goes against the American grain, Mead speculates a decisive shift in public opinion could yet expand federal authority. Among recent examples of ""transcendent national will,"" he cites Social Security and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Comparatively little of what Mead says about workfare is new, and he never really addresses the matter of community service in lieu of employment; to some extent as well, his synthesis has been overtaken by events at the grass-roots level. Last month, for example, California's governor signed a bill that requires most able-bodied welfare recipients to seek jobs or training as a condition for receiving benefits. Mead's systematic examination of the probability that welfare reform is a legitimate national issue too long deferred is a valuable one nonetheless.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1985
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan