Save the Men!

Workfare in the 1990s mainly focused on women, now we need to emphasize men's needs.

Poor men. No literally, poor men.

Men with lower incomes are often fathers of families on welfare, but they are largely out of the workforce. Many have been through the criminal justice system. They can't find jobs to afford child support. They don't receive government benefits at the same rate as women.

Like a stone in the water, the impact ripples out beyond their control.

Failure to provide for the family is a principal reason why low-income fathers break up with their spouses and leave their families. The men then live on their own through erratic jobs and, often, illegal activity. That denies the families needed income and also much of the attention that children need from their fathers as well as mothers. Boys suffer more than girls from growing up in a single-mother household because they lack the role model that a working father could provide.

For men, specifically, to escape poverty, Lawrence Mead suggests applying the lessons of 1990s welfare reform — requiring work.

In 2015, only 35 percent of poor men worked at all, only 12 percent full time and full year. That compares to figures of 70 and 52 percent for men in general. While many low-income men work sporadically, few put in the steady working hours needed to raise themselves and their families above the poverty line.

States and localities have begun to act on their own to address the issue of male unemployment, creating work programs for men that will help them find employment.

In Texas, for example, NCP Choices—an offshoot of the state's welfare reform program—oversees nonworking men owing child support as they search for private jobs. In New York City, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) enrolls ex-offenders leaving prison in work crews cleaning buildings, then places them in private positions.

NCP Choices was able to raise male employment by about 20 percent, and child support payments by about 50 percent. CEO in New York was able to reduce the rates of prison recidivism. Those are results worth repeating across the country.

Nonwork drives poverty. It seems obvious, but creating an environment that not only encourages, but expects men to go to work, is a solution worth supporting.

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