George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

U.S. House Should G⁠i⁠ve Amer⁠i⁠cans a W⁠i⁠n by Pass⁠i⁠ng One-Door

By: Lindsay Killen / 2024

Lindsay Killen


George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity


April 9, 2024
Lindsay Killen and Thais Gonzalez

Our nation needs a win these days, particularly at the federal level. People are exasperated, overburdened, disillusioned, and pessimistic about whether the country can advance solutions that make peoples’ lives better – not just now, but into the future. 

Indeed, optimism has been on the decline in recent years. Labor force participation rates plateaued over the past decade, partially due to the rise in an aging population, the recent pandemic, and decreasing birth rates. Currently, the labor participation rate is 62.8 percent, compared to 67.3 percent in 2000. Most critically, 1.7 million more Americans have dropped out of the workforce since the start of the pandemic in 2020. These individuals represent a population of 25–54-year-old able-bodied workers that are becoming more dependent on state and federal safety-net programs.

Labor participation is expected to further decline over the coming years, dropping to approximately 60 percent by the year 2032, according to projections by the U.S. Department of Labor. In the last year alone, 41 million Americans were relying on food stamps and approximately 90 million Americans were enrolled in Medicaid. Collectively, the American government now spends over $1 trillion on these programs every year – a staggering and unsustainable trend that must be addressed. 

Thankfully, states have been stepping up to deliver commonsense solutions that streamline access to essential benefits while supporting individuals on their path towards rejoining the labor market. Utah’s approach has been particularly effective, leading the state’s U.S. Senator, Mitt Romney, to file similar legislation at the federal level.

Called the “One Door to Work Act” (ODWA), the premise is simple, yet profound: consolidate multiple services under one umbrella and make it more efficient for individuals to access the essential services they need, while creating a springboard to self-sufficiency. Whether it’s healthcare, housing assistance, food aid, or employment services, One Door seeks to provide a unified entry point – sparing individuals from navigating a maze of agencies and applications. ODWA also increases states’ flexibility to design and implement workforce development programs and consolidate social safety-net programs into a single entity. This approach allows governments to be more fiscally responsible while supporting able-bodied individuals to reverse the workforce drop-out rates, obtain gainful employment, and restore a greater sense of purpose. 

Leslie Ford, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center on Opportunity and Social Mobility, explained to a legislative oversight committee that, “When people don’t work, their physical health declines, their psychological well-being declines, but when they move from welfare to work, we see financial strain declines, food insecurity drops. We see their physical, emotional, and psychological health improve. And we even see better health and education outcomes for their children.” 

Utah’s flexibility to pursue and implement this approach is unique among the states, as federal policy changes grandfathered in Utah’s programs and authority – meaning that we have now have a proof-of-concept for other states to model. Since implementing the One Door approach, Utah has become the best state for upward mobility, has maintained consistently low unemployment and poverty rates, and has one of the most diverse economies in the country. Further, Utah had the best economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The state has garnered two jobs for every one lost during the pandemic, according to a policy brief from the Alliance for Opportunity. 

Now, a coalition letter from the Alliance for Opportunity urges Congress to pass a One Door state option that currently has the support of 46 signatories from 17 states – including The James Madison Institute (JMI). Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina are just some of the states that have already begun steps to pursue similar programs at the state level, should One Door’s federal reform be signed into law.

As active participants in the coalition effort, JMI works with our partners in other states to raise awareness about the importance of making essential government services more efficient and reducing individuals’ reliance on safety net programs. Indeed, we believe that the One Door to Work Act has the potential to improve countless lives while making taxpayer resources go further. Together, we can open doors to opportunity and ensure that everyone has access to the support they need to thrive.