Household Income and Benefits ChartWe have all heard it before, “Why don’t they just get a job?”  While many of our friends and family members may share this view in regards to people affected by poverty, the logic simply does not hold up in the majority of cases.

To start off our conversation, consider the following question: If you were in poverty and did everything your case manager requested (i.e. obtained employment and you kept the job for a year), how much closer would you be to being out of poverty by the end of the year? Common sense leads us to believe that once you go from having not having a job to being employed, you would surely be better off.  However, the facts do not support this viewpoint. In fact, you could be worse off than you were before you started working depending on your working wage.

I have witnessed even the most motivated individuals give up on their fight out of poverty because of the dreaded “Welfare Cliff.” The Welfare Cliff takes affect once you start working and your government benefits decrease faster than your income increases.  Suddenly, you are worse off now than before you were working! This system penalizes individuals for working and improving themselves. Only the strongest and most determined individuals will be able overcome this system. We all have heard of these “rags to riches” stories, but they are a rarity.

In a recent Senate Budget Committee paper entitled The Welfare Cliff: How the Benefit Scale Discourages Work, John Sessions states, “The Pennsylvania Secretary of Public Welfare found that because of the stacking of welfare benefits, many individuals receiving welfare stand to lose financially by increasing their income. In one example, the study demonstrated how a single parent with two children earning $29,000 would have a net income, including welfare benefits, of $57,000. Therefore, the individual would need annual earnings to jump from $29,000 to $69,000 (pre-tax) to maintain the same standard of living without welfare benefits.” To illustrate this further please click here to view an informational video provided by the Circles Initiative in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

Summit County (Ohio) Getting Ahead graduates are feeling the effects of this cliff and the pressures on their fight out of poverty. It is imperative we support their efforts during this very tough battle.

Ana Paula De Oliveira, a Getting Ahead graduate through AMHA, described it perfectly, “They want you to do better, but they push you back when you are trying to improve. They don’t even give you time to get on your feet.”

Another Getting Ahead graduate, Kristin Turnberg, added, “Every time I think I am getting ahead, I am always getting set back.”

Welfare does not afford its recipients a lavish lifestyle by any means, but the system does create additional and unnecessary barriers to self-sufficiency. This is unfair to taxpayers and the families trapped in this dysfunctional system.” (Randolf, 2014)

If we want to help bring an end to poverty, the next step is admitting that the system is broken and having open conversations about moving forward and fixing the problems. We say, here at Bridges Summit County, that the causes of poverty are multifaceted.  Poverty is not solely caused by the behavior of the individual, so the solution to poverty should not just focus on the behavior of the individual. We cannot keep turning a blind eye to a system that creates barriers to people who are striving to become self-sufficient.  Instead, we need to strive for a community in which getting ahead is truly possible.


Alexander, G. (n.d.). Retrieved from Department of Public Welfare:

Randolf, E. (2014, December 2014). Research Report. Retrieved from Illinois Policy:

Sessions, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Written By Getting Ahead GED Instructor Kyle Putinski


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