The Latent Function of Welfare Un-Reform

There has been much gnashing of teeth over the fact that the Obama Administration's recent decree on welfare reform means that practicing yoga or bed rest would count as work for purposes of admitting people to welfare rolls, but there well may be another purpose of the action-intended or unintended.  

Thomas Merton gave Sociology an important pair of concepts:  

Manifest and latent functions are social scientific concepts....(by)sharpening the conceptual tools to be employed in a functional analysis. Manifest functions and dysfunctions are conscious and deliberate, the latent ones the unconscious and unintended.  While functions are intended (manifest) or unintended (latent), and have a positive effect on society, dysfunctions are unintended or unrecognized (latent) and have a negative effect on society.  

The Republicans are in full-blown outrage over the manifest functions, or goals, of the action:  

Republicans are questioning the legality of a move by the Obama administration to absolve some states from a federal requirement that welfare recipients engage in "work activities."  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that it will consider requests from states that wish to waive the requirement, which was at the heart of the 1996 welfare-reform law negotiated between congressional Republicans and President Clinton.  Administration officials say the change will give states more flexibility in developing new reforms, but GOP lawmakers argue the move is an illegal "power grab" aimed at undoing progress made under the current law.  

In an interview (see at about the 5:00 min. mark) on Fox Saturday with Uma  Pemmaraju, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said this (computer-generated transcript):

On welfare we undermined this basic -- of America of American democracy that is.  You gotta work -- pursue opportunity and if you do so in this free society get rewarded for your efforts.  But if you -- more more opportunities where you actually can make more money by state -- home.  As opposed to working.  A completely undermines.  What we believe that and I think the reason is donors because these admitting that his job -- been a failure.

So, clearly, a latent function, or goal, of the actions is the reduction of the unemployment rate---if you're not seeking work but engaged in the "work activity" of bed-rest and are collecting welfare because of that status, you are no longer unemployed. QED

The author is a Social Sciences graduate, studied Merton, and worked in Social Welfare environments here and abroad.

If you experience technical problems, please write to