Lankford Says Getting Americans Back to Work is Best for Our Nation, Not More Entitlements

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on YouTube.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the value of work in the US and the negative effects that will come from the Democrats’ tax-and-spend progressive agenda, which will make Americans more reliant on government entitlement programs instead of hard work. Lankford remains steadfast that work is the answer to solving generational poverty and that increased reliance on the government is what keeps families and children in poverty.

Lankford continues to point to the left-leaning Brookings Institution’s analysis regarding the three specific actions individuals can take to help themselves rise out of poverty: finish high school, get a full-time job, and wait until age 21 to get married and have children. Lankford also continues to encourage Oklahomans that the government cannot keep up with all the issues we face, and that in the US we have three safety nets – the family; nonprofits, churches, and faith-based houses of worship; and then government. Lankford continues to oppose the Democrats’ ongoing push to expand government handouts and disincentivize things like work and marriage.


It is one of the most basic questions that we get in almost any setting. What do you do? Common conversation back and forth between adults or teenagers or college students alike. What do you do? It’s a philosophical issue, though, that really has to be addressed.

Interestingly enough, it’s become a greater divide between Republicans and Democrats of late. It didn’t used to be that way. The simple conversation about what do you do and encouraging people to be able to be engaged in productive work and what they do seemed to be something that was unifying.

Democrats and Republicans alike rallied in the 1990s as Bill Clinton declared, ‘We’re ending welfare as we know it.’ A 60-year experiment of sending out checks to individuals saying, ‘We’re going to help people escape poverty by sending a check to individuals, and if we give them a check, they’ll rise out of poverty.’

Bill Clinton stood before the nation and said, ‘I campaigned to end that because that experiment didn’t work.’ And he focused in a whole different direction, encouraging, as he spoke often on, deadbeat dads, individuals that should pay their child support, need to pay it, and he highlighted how many people weren’t that because those families were left exposed.

He talked about the dignity of work, and to help people to be able to escape from poverty, we need to incentivize work and stop sending just a check to individuals but instead attach that to work.

The nation stood and cheered and rallied around a moment to say, ‘Let’s help people, but let’s help people actually rise.’ As the statement that I heard often even during that time period, ‘Let’s not make welfare a hammock. Let’s make it a trampoline, that they can get assistance for a moment and be lifted out and to be able to rise to other things.’

I thought that was a settled issue until just last year. I suddenly started hearing President Biden on the campaign trail and now in office with my Democratic colleagues in the House already passing something over there in their committees saying, ‘We want to actually go back to welfare as we knew it. We want to be able to go back to that failed experiment when we used to just mail checks to people and so people in government would feel good to say we took care of childhood poverty.’

I’ve already heard people even today in this body say, ‘If we pass this $3.5 trillion proposal, we will cut childhood poverty in half.’ That was a statement that was made pre-1990s when government believed if it just mailed a check, suddenly children would rise out of poverty because the numbers are right. But actually what we discovered was inflation would rise as checks were mailed out and families were trapped in permanent levels of poverty because there was a disincentive to actually engage in work.

Now again this used to not be a Republican-Democrat thing. This was just a thing that we could look at the data. Brookings Institution, which is a left-leaning think tank. I think we can all commonly agree with that. The Brookings Institution has year after year gone back to be able to look at how people actually escape poverty. How does it happen? What are the features that are there that people. It’s true in their life they escape poverty.

They’ve identified three areas that if these three areas are true, you’ll escape poverty. Number one: graduate high school, people that graduate high school, much lower level; number two: have a full-time job, any income, if you actually are working full time; and number three: if you wait until 21 to be married and then have children after marriage.

If those three things are true, the Brookings Institution said only two percent of the people actually are in poverty. Seventy-five percent of those folks in poverty that graduate high school get a full time job, have children after marriage. If those three things are true, 75 percent of them rise into the middle class. This is not rocket science in some ways. It’s just human nature. But the bill that’s being set in front of us that is $3.5 trillion in entitlements. And just to be able to put it in perspective how large that is. If you combine the budgets of all 50 states, the total budget of all 50 states, it’s $2 trillion. This new entitlement bill is $3.5 trillion that’s being proposed.

$3.5 trillion of new entitlements that would go to individuals, that removes things like an incentive to work. That says you can get child tax credits even if you’re not working, that no matter if you’re working or not in the current limit, by the way, don’t forget is only $2,500 of income in a year. If you’ll do at least $2,500 worth of income in a year, then you get additional assistance. It’s the encouragement to say, ‘The state will come alongside of you, but we’ve got to help you to be able to rise out of this spot.’ Even that is taken away.

There’s a marriage penalty included in this. If I read from the Brookings Institute if you want to help people rise out of poverty, there’s actually a marriage penalty in this where it actually punishes. So we seem to be punishing work and punishing marriage rather than encourage people to be able to rise.

Listen, this statement should be common for us. What do you do? It’s not just meaningful for individuals and for communities. It’s meaningful for children. Because in school children will be asked: what do your parents do. And if it’s nothing, it matters to a child. A child has the example that’s set in front of them. And it becomes a generational issue. We should encourage each generation to be able to rise and be a part of our society, not to be disconnected but to be engaged with all of our society. That develops community between individuals. It helps our economy grow. It’s what made us the most powerful economy in the entire world because we had what we called the American work ethic.

The American work ethic was a very simple principle that everyone should have the opportunity to be able to do whatever job they choose to be able to do, to be able to have access to the economy. And if we find any individual or any group that’s blocked out of the economy, government steps in and clears the path to make sure there’s a level path to be able to be engaged, so that everyone has that option to be able to engage in the economy, that everyone has the chance to be able to rise.

That does not get better by telling people ‘Oh, sit down, you don’t have to work. Oh, sit down right over there. We’ll take care of all your kids all the way through. You don’t have to engage.’

It sounds nice unless you’re living in it. And then it traps people in generational poverty. Urban, rural, across the country, it traps people in generational poverty. That doesn’t help families. That doesn’t help children. That doesn’t bless families and help them to be able to rise out of poverty. It keeps them trapped in it.

We have a philosophical difference. How do we help people in poverty? I believe we help people in poverty by clearing out every opportunity and making straight-level pass, setting that in front of individuals and saying, ‘You’re an American. Go after the American dream. Apply the American work ethic. Try. Graduate high school. Get a job. Get married. Stay engaged. Bless your children. I believe that’s the best way to be able to help our nation.’

Apparently others believe that it’s better just to be able to say, ‘No, you can’t do it. Sit down. I’ll send you a check.’ I don’t think that casts a vision for their children, and I don’t think that helps our nation. If you want to make it straightforward and simple, the Census said that we have 21 million children who have a parent that lived out of the household in 2018. Thirty percent of those children were in poverty. Three-times the rate of children in households where both parents were present. I can read the Brookings information. I can read the Census data, but I think we all know it in our gut that we provide purpose and meaning to people when they can answer the question, what do you do, and it matters to our country and to them as a family.