Right to Work State Residents Far Less Likely to Be ‘Needy’


The federal TANF program provides cash assistance to needy families. During FY 2016, residents of forced-unionism states were roughly three times as likely as residents of Right to Work states to be dependent on TANF support. Image: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Recently, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released data for all 12 months of FY 2016 reporting the average number of residents in each state who were dependent on cash payments from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to get by.

As they consistently have done in the past, the latest ACF data for the 50 states show that residents of states lacking Right to Work protections for employees are far more likely to rely on TANF money than are residents of states where the Right to Work is protected by law.

To be precise, an average of 12.6 per 1000 residents of forced-unionism states were TANF recipients during FY 2016, compared to an average of just 4.0 per 1000 in Right to Work states. (See the first link below for more information. Since it switched to Right to Work from forced-unionism in the middle of FY 2016, West Virginia is excluded from this analysis.  Since Kentucky and Missouri adopted their Right to Work laws only this year, they are counted as forced-unionism here.)

Fifteen of the 16 states with the highest TANF dependency ratios lack Right to Work laws, while 10 of the 11 states with the smallest shares of residents receiving TANF payments are Right to Work states.

TANF dependency is on average far lower in Right to Work states for two basic reasons, First, poverty as gauged by the federal government’s supplemental poverty measure (SPM), which takes regional cost-of-living differences into account, is much lower in Right to Work states than in forced-unionism states for Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans, and slightly lower for African Americans and whites. (See the second link below for more information.)

Second, members of households in Right to Work states that technically fit the definition of “poor” are clearly far more apt to believe they can improve their circumstances without taking cash from the federal government than are their counterparts in the rest of the country. Consequently, residents of Right to Work states who legally qualify for TANF support very frequently opt not to receive it.

In light of the above facts, as well as the fact that aggregate TANF dependency in then-forced unionism Kentucky and Missouri last year was roughly double the average for Right to Work states, it is outrageous that high-ranking union bosses who were recently fight to block enactment of the 27th and 28th Right to Work laws actually suggested that corralling workers into unions is a remedy for poverty!

In testimony for state legislators, Kentucky AFL-CIO kingpin Bill Londrigan and Missouri AFL-CIO chief Mike Louis insinuated struggling residents of their states would somehow be worse off if Big Labor’s forced-dues privileges were revoked.

The actual federal data on cost of living-adjusted poverty and TANF dependency show Londrigan and Louis have no idea what they’re talking about. In reality, the Kentucky and Missouri Right to Work laws will, in addition to protecting employee freedom and promoting faster growth generally, serve as an anti-poverty program with a proven record of success.

TANF Caseload Data 2016