TANF vs Human Capital

(US Air Force photo)

Paul Ryan’s effort to redefine Medicaid recipients as the new welfare queens is as good a time as any to revisit the original “welfare reform” idea which Washington has decided was an unvarnished success even though it doesn’t work at all absent the full employment of the late 1990s. For example, Dana Goldstein argues that we should make it easier for TANF beneficiaries to get education:

The problem is the narrow definition of “work” according to TANF’s “work first” requirement. If a recipient is over the age of 20, the program allows for just one year of vocational education while benefits are being paid. One year, however, is not long enough to earn occupational certificates in many growing professions, such as nursing and dental hygiene, especially if a mother is attending school only part-time because of childcare responsibilities.

That makes sense to me. As I’ve written about more extensively from the regulatory side, larger numbers of and reliance on these kind of medium-skilled health care professionals is one of the most cost-effective ways of improving health outcomes. Or looked at from a labor market perspective, this kind of medium-skilled work that has to be done face-to-face is an important chance at decent compensation in a world where manufacturing is increasingly done by robots.