Corralling Workers Into Unions Is No Rx For Poverty


Recently, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of he U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released Fiscal 2018 data regarding participation in all 50 states in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Among other things, the ACF reported the total annual average number of residents of each state who were dependent on cash payments from the TANF program to get by.

As they consistently have done in the past, the latest annual 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 10.3 per 1,000 residents of forced-dues states were TANF recipients during FY 2018, compared to an average of just 3.4 per 1,000 in states where employees can’t be fired for refusal to bankroll a union.

The nine states with the highest TANF dependency ratios — Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island — all lack Right to Work laws.  Meanwhile, nine of the 10 states with the lowest 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 differences in housing costs into account, is a bit lower in Right to Work states than in force-unionism states.  And forced-unionism states’ disadvantage for SPM poverty is greater when demographic factors such as relative educational attainment and age are taken into account.

The second key reason why TANF dependency is much higher in forced-unionism states is that members of households in Right to Work states that technically fit the definition of “poor” are clearly far more apt to believe they can advance economically without taking cash from the government.

People in Right to Work states are also less inclined to turn to help from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  These two giant government operations, each far larger than TANF, aim to cover health-care expenses for low-income Americans.

The most recent available state Medicaid/CHIP dependency data are for 2013.  They cover all but four small states: forced-unionism Colorado and Rhode Island, and Right to Work Idaho and Kansas.  Medicaid/CHIP data for 2013, when 24 of the 50 states had Right to Work laws, show that residents of forced-unionism states were nearly 17% more likely to be enrolled in these welfare programs than were residents of Right to Work states.

The most recent available federal data show residents of forced-unionism states are nearly 17% more likely to be in enrolled in the Medicaid/CHIP welfare programs than are residents of Right to Work states. Image: AP Photo