Work & Happiness – Overview

Each month here in Washington, D.C. the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues its report on the number of Americans who have gone to work. Work is vitally important to Americans and to everyone, everywhere. It's not just a paycheck; it's an essential component of our self-worth, our confidence, our happiness. I’m Johan Norberg, a writer and analyst from Sweden, and I've long been interested in the dynamic connection between work and happiness. NORBERG: Dignity is found in a hard days work, on a farm… in a factory…in a shop…or at a desk. But what happens when a person can't find work? Here in the United States and in developed countries all around the world, governments have created welfare programs. Their admirable intention is to help the poor by providing a safety net to help get people back on their feet. But here in the U.S., research suggests that the various programs in the state and federal system we call welfare, often hurt the people they are designed to help. We will meet real people whose dreams and aspirations are defined and confined by a well-meaning system. Their stories represent millions of others for whom the safety net has become a trap. Their challenges and the odds they face are daunting, often insurmountable. It reminds me how important it is that I need to be self-sustaining, that I need to be independent. NORBERG: Chris is a divorced mother to four daughters, one of whom was born with cerebral palsy and requires constant care. She seeks the independence she once had through a career, but the system seems to work against her. I just expect more out of life and better. I didn't wake up saying I wanted to be on welfare, because welfare was like last option for me. NORBERG: Monique was born into poverty. She recently married the father of her youngest child, but has discovered that marriage comes with a very real financial penalty when one is on welfare. Currently unemployed, she is determined to overcome and find work to support her family. I've been on welfare practically all my life, you know, growing up, before I was born, welfare existed in my family. NORBERG: Angel is a single father of two growing children. He's a third generation welfare recipient, suffered parental abuse and lived a life of crime as a young man. With all that behind him now, he still feels stuck in the system. In prison they take you, and they shave your head, they give you a prison outfit; and they give you a number. And they tell you "learn this number." "This is who you are." NORBERG: Richard is resetting his life after 20 years in prison. Raised in poverty by drug-addicted family members, Richard's life was immersed in crime from an early age. He is now determined to turn his life around. All of these people search for work and for happiness. All of them face obstacles built into the American welfare system.

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