Newt Gingrich: We need welfare reform now – Here’s why

The rapidly growing economy is proof that we need welfare reform.

Having more job openings than people looking for work is a good problem to have – but it is still a problem.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that at the end of April there were 6.7 million job openings in the United States and only 6.3 million people who were unemployed. The reason for this disparity is due to accelerating job creation since President Trump was elected.

Despite the growing economy, workforce participation has remained mostly unchanged (at around 62.7 percent). This is down from as high as 67.3 percent in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

There’s only one right way to close this gap. We don’t want to slow job creation. We need to increase the number of people participating in the workforce.

As I wrote in my New York Times best-seller, Trump’s America: The Truth About Our Nation’s Great Comeback,” we can increase workforce participation in a number of ways, including returning our focus to vocational training, using technology to enable lifelong learning, and implementing a robust infrastructure plan. However, all of these efforts will require a lot of time and resources – and will likely face bitter political fights from union-loyal Democrats.

House Republicans have taken up the best way to grow the workforce (which I also discuss in “Trump’s America”) – reforming the welfare system.

The Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act, sponsored by Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., was reported last month by the House Ways and Means Committee. It would help our country meet the demands of the growing economy by putting in place popular reforms that will help get millions of Americans out of dependency and back to work.

The JOBS for Success Act would reinvigorate and expand reforms that we put in place when I was speaker of the House. Those reforms were wildly successful and led to the greatest number of children leaving poverty in American history.

Unfortunately the Obama administration weakened these reforms and shifted back toward maximizing dependency and food stamps, rather than work and take-home pay.

The new House Republican reforms include work requirements for work-eligible welfare recipients. However, while our 1996 reforms were mostly aimed at helping women, this new House bill will also work to bring men out of dependency and back into the workforce.

According to the Ways and Means Committee, there are 7 million men not participating in the workforce. Note, these men are not counted among our unemployed population because they are not looking for work. The Obama-Democratic strategy of maximizing dependency and undermining the work ethic has led many of these men to leave the workforce.

The Republican House bill increases the current rule of 50 percent work participation for work-eligible welfare recipients to 100 percent participation. It requires each person seeking assistance to adhere to an individualized plan for achieving self-sufficiency, which will be reviewed every 90 days.

Additionally, this bill would increase the amount of federal funds available for child care from $10.4 billion to $16.6 billion. This could nearly double the number of children benefitting from 1.4 million to up to 2.4 million.

These are simple, common sense reforms – and they are very popular. Ninety percent of American voters support the idea that able-bodied adults should have to work, train, or volunteer to receive welfare benefits. Also, 89 percent of the American people believe work requirements help people get out of dependency and off welfare.

I know from personal experience that this approach works. When I was speaker, we put work requirements and time limits on government benefits. As a result, enrollment for dependency programs dropped 60 percent. The families who joined the workforce saw a 25 percent increase in their incomes and the childhood poverty rate dropped at a record pace.

This welfare reform is a key part of the Republican innovation agenda that I discussed last week. It’s a big step toward closing the jobs gap – and it would continue to show Americans that Republicans are here to make life better for all Americans.

Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich. His latest book is "Trump’s America: The Truth About Our Nation’s Great Comeback.”