Wyoming Is Valedictorian, Hawaii Fails On Report Card For Welfare Reform States

Washington, D.C. - Why work when you can earn more than $36,000 a year doing nothing? This is what welfare recipients are asking in Hawaii, and why welfare-to-work reform policies have been slow to be adopted in that state according to a report from the National Center for Policy Analysis. Making Welfare Work: Lessons From the Best and Worst State Welfare Reform Programs, looks at why some states have been more successful than others in implementing welfare-to-work programs.

According to the report, Hawaii's welfare rolls have increased by 36 percent from January 1993 to July of this year.

"In rating the states on the basis of welfare-to-work success, Hawaii comes in dead last," said Merrill Matthews, NCPA vice president, domestic policy. "Alaska isn't much better. Aside from the District of Columbia, it comes in second to last."

Welfare recipients in Alaska receive an average benefit of $32,150, and the state has experienced only a five percent decrease in its welfare population.

"Even though both states have a high cost-of-living, such elevated benefits make it very difficult for employers to compete," said Matthews. "And unlike most states which have tried to make it harder for welfare recipients to receive a check, Hawaii still hands out money the first time a person walks in the door."

At the top of the ranking, Wyoming has dropped its welfare caseload by 73 percent since 1993. Wisconsin, Oregon, Colorado and Mississippi have all seen a 50 percent or better drop. Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee have reduced theirs by 49 percent and Alabama has experienced a 48 percent drop in the number of people on its welfare roles.

The report finds similarities among successful reform states, including:

  • A serious effort to move welfare recipients into jobs, preferably private-sector jobs.
  • A political commitment to reform that transcends one person or party.
  • A willingness to extend social service benefits for a period after the welfare beneficiary takes a job.
  • A stress on personal responsibility for one's own actions.
  • An attempt to integrate social reform in conjunction with welfare reform.
  • A reliance on private-sector services when possible to implement reforms.

States that have shown little success have been unable to pass and implement strong welfare-to-work policies, have failed to emphasize going to work immediately and have provided extremely high benefits.

"States that fail have become distracted by other goals: education, job training and personal development," said Matthews. "In fact, only work works."