American Principles Lead to Opportunity for All

Timothy Jeffries

Why should we seek to help people overcome dependence on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)? Why does gainful, stable employment mean more than a simple paycheck?

Our nation was founded on the principles of hard work, diligence, passion, and perseverance. Americans take pride in their work and the satisfaction of a job well-done. Our work plays a large part in defining who we are and the principles upon which we stand in this great country. A strong work ethic and pride in one’s work are values held dear by Americans. A job done well fosters a sense of personal satisfaction. In fact, the term “Made in America” is a patriotic theme that communicates pride in our productivity and its quality.

Working and becoming self-sufficient allows individuals to improve their financial positions while providing a sense of accomplishment and dignity. Government involvement is a safety net, but government should not be the sole provider. Its role is temporarily to help people in need when they fall on tough times and have nowhere else to turn. Government assistance was never meant either to be a permanent solution or to meet one’s financial requirements. A healthy, robust economy stems from a strong and stable workforce; too much government involvement stymies a growing economy’s health and stability.

The reality is that poverty is much more than financial. It often results from a combination of non-monetary factors like family breakdown, drug problems, mental health issues, or abuse. If money were the only problem, solutions would be much more straightforward. When families experience poverty today, monetary limitations are not their only worry. Deep-seated familial dysfunction and other factors are the root causes of poverty in most situations.

TANF is designed to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency. States receive a fixed-amount grant from the federal government to design and operate programs that accomplish one of the program’s four purposes:

  • Provide assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes;
  • Reduce the dependence of needy parents by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage;
  • Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies; and
  • Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.

From a historical perspective, it is important to note that from 1961 to 1993, the number of individuals receiving cash assistance grew to 14.2 million from 3.4 million. Since that time, the numbers have declined sharply. In 2015, the number of people receiving aid stood at 4.1 million — only somewhat higher than at the program’s inception — and from 2005 to 2015, it decreased by nearly 900,000.

What the numbers in the TANF indicator show is that more Americans are less dependent on government aid in the form of cash assistance. The notions of self-sufficiency and sustainability are becoming not only more relevant, but also desired by families. The idea that families can support themselves without cumbersome, invasive, and limiting government involvement is increasingly appealing.

That is the true American dream.

Timothy Jeffries is the Director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security.


Next Up in the Poverty and Dependence Section:

TANF Work Participation Rate



© 2016 by The Heritage Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

2016 Index of Culture and Opportunity

The Social and Economic Trends that Shape America

Heritage Foundation

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A think tank devoted to the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

2016 Index of Culture and Opportunity

The Social and Economic Trends that Shape America

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