The problem isn't necessarily that people on government assistance are lazy; it's that they are rational. As Mulligan noted in an interview with EconTalk host Russ Roberts, “Why should people accept low-wage jobs when they are getting a better deal when they're not working?”
Since President Barack Obama took office, the number of people on food stamps has surged from 31.6 million to a record 47.7 million, or one out of every 6.5 Americans. In the past year, the number of Americans collecting disability payments has increased by 1.27 million, bringing the national total to 8.8 million.
The aforementioned federal policies likely explain why welfare dependency has also surged in Oklahoma even though the state's economy is among the nation's best. Census Bureau figures show Oklahoma experienced an increase in both food stamp and welfare participation even as the unemployment rate declined in 2010 and 2011.
This is worth noting, because Obama's recent proposals have included a call to increase taxes on the top 2 percent of earners, generating about $300 billion over five years, and extending enhanced unemployment benefits at a cost of $200 billion over five years. Obama didn't get everything he wanted in the recent fiscal cliff deal, but as the resulting tax increase costs jobs, the benefit extension still wipes out much of the revenue generated.
Most Americans would prefer that federal policy promote work over government dependence, but Obama wants to fund policies that discourage work by passing tax policies that discourage hiring.