Does Welfare Work?

1108 words | 4 page(s)

Welfare is a necessary system that helps to safeguard the most vulnerable in society, but there are several aspects of it which leave room for improvement. In order to understand the ways in which welfare within the United States could be improved, we must analyze the various aspects of social support that a government may provide its citizens. The primary aspects of social welfare spending are health care, education, cash retirement benefits, other government cash transfers (like employment insurance), and non-cash aid such as food stamps or public housing (Garfinkle, Rainwater, & Smeeding, 2010). Because of these various aspects of social welfare, it is important to consider a holistic approach to improving our social safety net. The primary goal of this paper will be to explore the current allocation of funds to each of these supports, as well as how we can learn from other nations to improve the implementation of each support structure.

Changes to our healthcare system have been at the forefront of the media for years. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), more commonly known as Obamacare, is a federal statute that has been implemented to lower costs and improve the accessibility of healthcare. In 2016, subsidies for health insurance costs are expected to be approximately $600 billion, which works out to a respectable number of just under $2000 per person. However, the number of individuals without any health insurance coverage still make up approximately 10% of the population under the age of 65, a number that is not forecast to change significantly in the next 10 years (Congressional Budget Office, 2016). Medicare does contribute by helping many of the most vulnerable in society to access their necessary healthcare needs, but that large gap among the non-elderly is cause for concern. This is one area in which the welfare system fails to assist in providing support for those who cannot work.

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While education may not directly affect those who are unable to work, many unemployed individuals are still parents who must support their children’s educational needs. Fortunately, there is great access to public education across the country, and most young people, even those in poverty, do have a chance to receive a formal education. Student loans and scholarships are both great options for accessing post-secondary education, and state schools are realistically within reach for all hard working students. Unfortunately, there is a great disparity between states as to how education funds are allocated, but for the most part, education is an area of focus in which the welfare system is successful.

Old Age Security and cash retirement benefits is an area we may hear a lot about, however this is an issue that I would posit stems primarily from a failure of other areas of the welfare system. While it is true that many do not have the money they need to retire, the poverty rate among Americans over the age of 65 is on par with the national average, and lower than the poverty rate among children (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). As such, this would be an unrealistic area to begin focusing efforts on improving the welfare system.

Unemployment insurance (UI) varies by state, so it is difficult to completely analyze this portion of our welfare system in a succinct manner. With that said, a few generalizations can be made to help analyze the strengths and weaknesses of UI. First and foremost, in order to be eligible, someone must have lost their job through no fault of their own, and be continuously available to work (U.S. Department of Labor, 2016). This continued availability to work is problematic, as many of those living below the poverty line or using welfare benefits within the United States are unable to work due to a disability, and may end up simply lost in the system. This idea of falling through the safety net is one of the biggest areas in which America struggles, and this is in large part due to the size of the nation, and the inability to provide personalized services to individuals (Garfinkle, Rainwater, & Smeeding, 2010). As unfortunate as it may be, improving this aspect of welfare may be cost prohibitive.

Finally, non-cash aid in the form of food stamps and public housing are provided. These food stamps will realistically cover one affordable meal per day. On top of this, public housing is available to citizens who are considered low income, or are disabled or otherwise unable to pay typical housing prices in their area. While various problems arise from these that relate to crime, from a welfare standpoint they are successful in providing an affordable alternative to those in need.

Because they are so multifaceted, it is hard to measure one country’s welfare system against that of another in a direct comparison. However, we can look at the overall quality of life in various countries to get a general indicator of the success of a system such as welfare. Looking at Numbeo (an online database of quality of life statistics), an effective way to judge our welfare system is to compare our overall world rank with our rank in safety, health care, and property affordability. Overall, America ranks 10th in the world for quality of life, but drops to 14th for safety, 30th for health care, and 59th for property affordability. This is an indicator of a general failure to provide adequate welfare comparatively to other countries ranked among the best in the world overall. I would argue that the primary area in which this could be improved is healthcare spending, and ensuring that all Americans, not just 90%, are given access to healthcare at the reduced costs that insurance can provide.

Ultimately, the welfare system in America does work, and the system is necessary to ensure the stability of the nation. However, there are several aspects of the system that should be reformed to better assist those who cannot work. The primary aspect that should be focused on for future change is the healthcare system, while continuing to support education and other social safety nets as we have in past decades.

  • Affordable Care Act. Retrieved July 22, 2016, from
  • Income & Poverty. Retrieved July 22, 2016, from
  • Quality of Life Index for Country 2016 Mid Year. Retrieved July 22, 2016 from
  • State Unemployment Insurance Benefits. Retrieved July 22, 2016, from
  • Garfinkel, I., Rainwater, L., & Smeeding, T. M. (2010). Wealth and welfare states: Is America a laggard or leader? Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gilens, M. (1999). Why Americans hate welfare: Race, media, and the politics of antipoverty policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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