The Human Cost of Welfare
How the System Hurts the People It's Supposed to Help
by Phil Harvey and Lisa Conyers
February 2016, 206pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4534-5
$65, £50, 57€, A90
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4535-2
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

America’s means-tested federal welfare programs cost nearly $700 billion annually—much more than the U.S. defense budget.

Why is the welfare system failing to work for so many people? This book examines the problems with the current welfare system and proposes reforms to create a smarter, smaller system that helps people improve their lives through rewarding work.

Unlike other books on welfare, this one draws on the stories of more than 100 welfare recipients who are trapped in a system that keeps them underemployed and unemployed. The authors present case studies that show that being a part of a welfare program can actively result in the recipient having to limit their job efforts for fear of losing government assistance. The book examines all major U.S. welfare systems, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP, Medicaid, and others.

The authors begin by exploring the nation’s basic poverty issues and examining the relationship between work and happiness. Next, they zero in on specific welfare programs, reporting both on their dollar costs and on the ways that they fail enrollees. The book then concludes with strategies for addressing the shortcomings of the current U.S. welfare system. This book is appropriate for readers interested in public policy, government programs, welfare, and cultural shifts in America. It adds a new perspective to the existing body of welfare scholarship by systematically assessing the impact of welfare on the receivers themselves.


  • Presents a unique analysis of America's welfare programs and uses real-life examples to show how the current system forces enrollees to stay underemployed or unemployed
  • Offers a well-researched perspective on the relationship between work and happiness and why work is necessary for a happy life
  • Presents a new angle on welfare's shortcomings by focusing on the opinions of more than 100 welfare beneficiaries
  • Provides a variety of recommendations for welfare reform, such as creating wage subsidies for low-income workers, increasing apprenticeships, privatizing welfare, and fixing the Earned Income Tax Credit, among others
Phil Harvey is the chief sponsor of the DKT Liberty Project, an advocacy group that raises awareness about liberty and freedom in the United States. He is the author of Let Every Child Be Wanted: How Social Marketing Is Revolutionizing Contraceptive Use Around the World, which drew praise from former President Jimmy Carter; Government Creep: What the Government is Doing That You Don't Know About; The Government Vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve, which the ALA Intellectual Freedom Roundtable nominated as the best book on intellectual freedom the year of its publication; as well as a novel titled Show Time. Harvey writes for The Huffington Post, Forbes, and other publications, and his profiles have appeared in The Economist, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Mother Jones. He is chairman and founder of the mail-order firm Adam & Eve.

Lisa Conyers is director of policy studies for the DKT Liberty Project, where she works on topics including welfare, inequality, and civil liberties. Also a consultant and ghostwriter who focuses on economics, sociology, and public policy issues, she has contributed to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Huffington Post. She is a contributing author for Self-Control vs. Government Control, an Atlas Network anthology of essays on the subject of self-governance.


"With its scores of original interviews and empathy for people who want to be in greater control of their lives and its sensible, workable reform agenda, The Human Cost of Welfare is a must-read for anyone interested in making government more accountable and improving the lives of the poorest Americans."—Reason TV, March 8, 2016

"A refreshingly non-partisan dissection of the social safety net’s unintended consequences. It may be hard to believe that a book discussing welfare policy can be described as a page-turner, but here it is."—Washington Independent Review of Books, April 20, 2016

"This very readable book may stimulate some alternative approaches to making lives better."—Choice, December 1, 2016

"Highly readable and thoroughly researched, this book reveals the tragic secret of our welfare state: It is hurting the people it is intended to help. The Human Cost of Welfare then provides practical suggestions for righting this wrong."—Peter Goettler, President, Cato Institute

"Phil Harvey and Lisa Conyers illuminate the whole welfare picture with reports from real people about what keeps them poor and dependent. One of the stories that stays with me came from a pregnant teenager. 'In my high school,' she said, 'they even have day care for the kids of the students. The school clinics can’t give out birth control, but they can take care of us and our babies.'"—Nadine Strossen, Professor, New York Law School; Former President, American Civil Liberties Union

"When you deal regularly with welfare problems, as I did as governor of New Mexico, you see the harm that supposedly helpful government programs can do. Phil Harvey and Lisa Conyer's book paints an alarming picture of our welfare system's unintended consequences and provides valuable suggestions to make the system better."—Gary Johnson, 2012 candidate for President; Former Governor of New Mexico

"The Human Cost of Welfare exposes the downside of America’s welfare programs—they keep people underemployed and unemployed, preventing them from leading meaningful lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the disability systems for civilians and military veterans. I've studied this issue and lived it myself after losing a leg in Iraq, and I’m glad Phil Harvey and Lisa Conyers are shining a light on this huge hidden problem."—Daniel Gade, Lieutenant Colonel PhD

"This book should be read by politicians; they’re the ones who don’t get it. If we can get to work we can start living that American Dream and giving our kids the life they deserve, and that we deserve too."—"Janet," Washington DC, welfare recipient

"I’m glad you wrote this book. I’d rather be going to work today, not dealing with welfare offices, and I’d rather my daughter saw me going to work today too; your book explains why that’s so hard to pull off."—"Karen," Brooklyn, NY, welfare recipient

"It’s about time somebody wrote a book about what it is really like to be on welfare; it’s a joke. So many rules, so hard to get off, you just get stuck, that’s all."—"Marie," Baltimore, MD, welfare recipient

"This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about what is really happening in America. Useful, informative and sobering, it describes a dysfunctional welfare system in which one sixth of the population of one of the richest countries in history is living on food stamps. Welfare programs are helping to bring about a slow-motion destruction of the American dream."—James Bartholomew, Author of The Welfare of Nations
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