America doesn’t have a worker shortage; it has a work shortage. The unemployment rate is at a 15-year low, but only 55% of Americans adults 18 to 64 have full-time jobs. Nearly 95 million people have removed themselves entirely from the job market.
There’s no question that insisting on work in exchange for social benefits would succeed in reducing dependency. We have the data: Within 10 years of the 1996 reform, the number of Americans in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program fell 60%. But no reform is permanent. Under President Obama, federal poverty programs ballooned.
A better long-term solution to the work shortage would be to eliminate all forms of public support except for those who are unable to work, and eliminate all poverty programs, since they have not reduced poverty since they were established in 1965. The money currently being spent on these programs should be redirected to job creation—preferably for private-sector jobs, but public-sector jobs will do in a pinch. A trillion-dollar federal infrastructure program, such as the one President Trump has said he will propose, could absorb a large number of the unemployed and underemployed.
There are other avenues to pursue. For young men who are not working, a mandatory two-year public-service requirement with an off-ramp for those who snag a job could motivate them to get off—and stay off—the couch.