In September 2018, news broke that more than 4,000 people lost health insurance as a result of Arkansas’ new Medicaid work requirement. In a press conference responding to the announcement, Governor Asa Hutchinson mused that the coverage loss could be attributable to the fact that some people “simply don’t want to be part of the workforce. They’re able-bodied, but they…don’t desire to do it.” More than 18,000 Arkansans went on to lose health insurance before a federal judge struck down the state’s Medicaid work requirement six months later. A study published in the nation’s top medical journal concluded that Arkansas’ work requirement did not increase work, but instead penalized people who were already working in paid employment but did not report it, or should have been exempt from the requirement in the first place.
People did not lack the “desire” to work. Work requirements, however, are premised on the very assumption that people do not want to work, and therefore should be coerced to work by public policy. More often than not, the implication is that certain people do not want to work.
In her latest report, Senior Policy Analyst Elisa Minoff dives deep in to the racist roots of work requirements, and traces the roots of policies that take away basic assistance from families for not meeting work requirements to attempts to coerce and exploit the labor of Black families, going back to slavery.