We know that people do better in life when they experience the benefits of meaningful work and healthy relationships. But we also know that so many cultural forces are stacked against success in these two areas. One of the biggest is the American welfare system, which keeps people trapped in cycles of dependence while reducing incentives to climb the economic ladder or form stable relationships.
That’s why the Georgia Center for Opportunity has been on the vanguard of work-focused welfare reform that gives a hand-up to struggling people while preserving the social safety net for those who truly need it. The great news is that we’re seeing growing momentum—both at the state and national level—to make these reforms a reality.
Georgia lawmakers are poised to consider legislation in the General Assembly to take significant steps on welfare reform—what we call the “right to strive”—while nationally we are seeking waivers to expedite the reform package at the state level. In recent months, we’ve presented our welfare research to Georgia’s Rural Economic Development Committee, created by former Gov. Nathan Deal and the legislature to help rural Georgia communities become more competitive economically. The committee was already well aware of the damage caused by welfare cliffs in the lives of individuals and businesses, so they were very welcoming of our input. We’ve also met with policymakers in Washington, D.C., on our welfare reform proposals.
The changes can’t come soon enough. Although the Georgia economy is booming with a historic 3.6% unemployment rate, these trendlines obscure a hidden workforce crisis: Millions of Americans aren’t counted in the official unemployment rate because they’ve simply given up looking for work. A crucial step in the right direction for these non-working individuals is to create a welfare system that helps—rather than hinders—their connection to meaningful work.
The most important changes in our proposal are to reduce welfare “cliffs,” a scenario where benefit drop-offs unfairly punish workers for earning more and moving up the economic ladder. Secondly, our proposals eliminate the marriage penalty that encourages single parenthood.
A big step to accomplish this is by consolidating the major 15 welfare programs hosted by federal, state, and local agencies into five coordinated programs, headed by a sole lead agency. In the end, our reforms stabilize the safety net for those who truly need it, adopt a “work first” approach for those who are able, and create incentives to form marriages and households.
We’re optimistic that we will soon see work- and family-focused “right-to-strive” reforms in Georgia. Interested in learning more? Don’t miss our three-part series of reports on welfare reform: Part 1, part 2, and part 3.
There’s no doubt about it: Marriage is in crisis today, both in Georgia and across the United States. But even as we grieve declining marriage rates among young people—many of whom choose to cohabit rather than tie the knot—and spiking divorce rates among Baby Boomers, we’re reminded that we have so much to celebrate. And we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what the future holds.
Why? Because we know that healthy marriages are a cornerstone of our society. And they’ll always be. We know that married people tend to be happier, healthier, wealthier, and enjoy more stability in their lives. Those benefits also extend to kids, who perform better in school and have a far slimmer chance of being in poverty.
In the spirit of celebrating all that’s great about marriage, we’re thrilled to recognize National Marriage Week (February 7-14) leading up to Valentine’s Day. National Marriage Week seeks to foster collaboration around the country to “strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a culture that fosters strong marriages.”
One of our core goals here at Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is to give couples the tools they need to not just survive, but thrive in their marriages. Empirical research clearly tells us that marriage is a crucial step toward achieving economic and relational stability. In fact, it’s one part of the three-part “success sequence”: Those who get a good education, work full-time, and marry before having children are nearly guaranteed a place in the middle class.
This National Marriage Week, if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your own relationship or help others strengthen theirs, here are several practical ways to get started:
- Sign up for a “Build my Relationship” web conference: GCO’s Healthy Families Initiativeis now offering a new way to connect with licensed professionals via a series of live web conferences. You’ll have the opportunity to engage in conversation with our experts and gain insight into other resources and tools available to build your best relationship. Register Now.
- Attend a “Prepping for Romance” workshop: A “best of the best” relationship training workshop. Prepping for Romance helps build communication skills and provides the tools to create a solid marriage foundation. Register Now.
- Help a teen with our “How to Avoid Falling for a Jerk or Jerkette” workshop: Want to help your teens navigate the challenging waters of dating and relationships and build a strong foundation for marriage? This interactive workshop is designed specifically for high school students and teaches them how to effectively date with long-term, healthy relationships in mind. Register Now.
The Georgia legislature is back in session, and school choice is likely to be a front and center issue. As we look to build off past school-choice successes in Georgia, a key priority will be to see Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) become a reality.
Along these lines, a new national poll from EdChoice has some great news: Americans pick ESAs as their preferred K-12 educational choice option. This news comes at a great time for parents across Georgia who desperately need more options for their children.
ESAs are an innovative way for parents to pay for non-public educational options for their children (kids like Seth). ESAs allow parents to direct the money the state would have spent on their child to things like tuition, tutors, adaptive technology, therapy, and curriculum to truly customize an education that best meets each child’s needs.
These new survey results show that ESAs have the highest support among K-12 educational choice options (including majority support among public school teachers). Support for ESAs has risen from 64 percent in 2013 to 74 percent in 2018. In addition, the survey reveals across-the-board growing support for other school-choice options. Here are some of the highlights:
- Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents support school vouchers, compared to one out of three (30 percent) who oppose them.
- Two out of three Americans (66 percent) express support for tax-credit scholarships, compared to about one in four (24 percent) who oppose them.
- Six out of 10 Americans (61 percent) say they support public charter schools, while 29 percent say they oppose charters.
- Compared to two years ago, nearly twice as many parents say they have taken on another job or changed jobs in order to support their children’s K-12 education.
The entire team at Georgia Center for Opportunity will be hard at work in 2019 to see ESAs pass in the state legislature. The time is ripe for Georgia to become the seventh state nationally to make ESAs available!
It may surprise you to learn that data from the U.S. Census data show that just 2.4 percent of those who work full-time year-round live in poverty. In contrast, 14 percent of those who did work—but not full-time, and not year-round—were in poverty, and fully 32 percent of those who did not work at all lived in poverty.
Surprisingly, these numbers are nothing new. Economist Lawrence Mead noted in his book From Prophesy to Charity: How to Help the Poor that the poverty rate in 2009 for those who worked at least a 35-hour work week for 50 weeks of the year was just 3 percent. Mead summarizes: “The lion’s share of adult poverty is due, at least in the first instance, to low working levels.”
Clearly, the key to escaping poverty isn’t merely raising wages, as important as that might be. It’s full-time (or close to full-time) work. And one of the key ways to help our neighbors escape poverty is straightforward and simple: help them get job training, land a stable job, and advance into higher paying positions over time.
To this end, we are proud of the impressive results flowing out of our workforce initiative, Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG). By breaking down the key barriers to full-time employment—lack of education and job skills—HWDG connects local employers and community leaders with job seekers to provide valuable training that leads to stable, good paying jobs that lift people out of poverty and break the cycle of generational poverty and government dependency.
We believe that the best solutions to problems are at the local level. And we believe that the reason HWDG is the most effective job placement program in Georgia is because it moves beyond political grandstanding and offers a real solution to the core problem—the need for sustainable jobs.
In our booming economy, there’s little reason for those who want to work to remain mired in poverty. Job initiatives like HWDG give motivated individuals a second chance and much-needed on-the-job training to get a solid job that leads to a life of dignity and thriving.