MOST Americans say they feel disgusted by the current welfare system - not because of its cost or wastefulness but because it undercuts the ethical cornerstone of an honest day's work, according to a nationwide survey released April 24.
Consequently, Americans believe welfare reform should center on ending idleness and promoting core values such as work, community, and responsibility, the poll found.
The public attitudes appear to bolster claims from both sides of the political spectrum. The poll, which involved welfare recipients, affirms the liberal claim that many people on welfare want to work but, for many reasons, cannot. At the same time, it supports the conservative conviction that people on the dole should work.
"Americans resent being asked to support a system which, in their view, fosters such long-term idleness and complacency," says Deborah Wadsworth, executive director of Public Agenda, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in New York, which conducted the survey.
"Even if government could provide the current system at far less cost and with no fraud whatsoever, people would still be deeply angry," Ms. Wadsworth said in a prepared statement.
Public Agenda carried out the survey of 1,000 randomly selected adults in the United States in late 1995. The main findings include:
*The vast majority of Americans (93 percent), and 88 percent of households on public aid, seek urgent reform of the country's welfare system.
*Most Americans (85 percent) believe that the key to welfare reform is work. Welfare recipients should be "required to do something in exchange for their benefits - even if it was just raking leaves or cleaning roads," the respondents agreed.
*The public feels strongly that mothers on welfare should also be required to work, with 76 percent of respondents saying it is unfair to allow them to stay at home with their children when mothers who work cannot afford that luxury.
*Americans support three basic measures to move welfare recipients into jobs: Mandatory job training and education programs (77 percent); child care for welfare mothers who work or go to school (68 percent); time limits on welfare benefits (57 percent).
*Only 4 percent of Americans say they believe government welfare should be eliminated. But they want welfare to be "a temporary intervention that allows people to ... jump back into the fray," the survey finds.
*By significant margins, Americans who are economically insecure and worry about losing their jobs are more sympathetic to the welfare system than those who are financially secure. They are twice as likely to say the country lacks enough economic opportunity for welfare recipients to succeed on their own.