More than 20,000 South Carolinians have moved from welfare into jobs since Nikki Haley became governor.

Count on her re-election campaign repeatedly - and fairly - reminding you of those encouraging numbers over the next 82 days.

But as reported by Columbia-based Post and Courier colleague Jeremy Borden on our South section front Tuesday, "advocates for the poor and a former DSS deputy director who oversaw the [governor's welfare-to-work] program said that of those 20,000 former welfare recipients, it is difficult to know how many stayed in their jobs or were able to get employment beyond a limited-hour minimum-wage job."

So getting off welfare and getting a job isn't always permanent.

So what do critics of welfare-to-work initiatives like Haley's expect? Lifetime assurance of a well-paid, full-time gig for people who aren't even working part-time now?

Where do those of us who do have jobs sign up for such a guarantee in a labor market suffering apparently long-term (yikes) structural contraction?

Who in government can keep such a promise - and how?

How can welfare and other government-assistance programs provide a secure safety net without inducing a disincentive to work?

And how can we afford such programs if too few people have taxpaying jobs?

Such questions were fueling heated debate long before this year's gubernatorial race.

Yet Americans across partisan lines should share this view expressed long ago by a famous politician:

"Work is the meaning of what this country is all about. We need it as individuals. We need to sense it in our fellow citizens, and we need it as a society and as a people."

That wasn't Ronald Reagan talking.

That was Robert F. Kennedy.

And those insightful words were cited by President Bill Clinton on Aug. 22, 1996, when he signed, albeit reluctantly, a sweeping welfare reform act.

Clinton also said on that occasion: "Today, we are taking an historic chance to make welfare what it was meant to be, a second chance, not a way of life."

Seven months earlier, Clinton had declared in his State of the Union speech: "The era of big government is over."

No, it wasn't - and still isn't.

And no, the contagious, insidious allure of the Welfare State isn't confined to Americans on welfare.

Do the math

You've paid into Social Security and Medicare all of your working life.

Thus, you justifiably expect those benefits Big Brother promised us, right?

Here's where that equation has gone wrong: Way back in the year (1953) of my birth, 15 Americans paid into Social Security for every American receiving money out of it.

Today that ratio has dwindled to scarcely more than 3-to-1.

In a couple of decades, it will be scarcely more than 2-to-1.

That demands a fundamental overhaul to save the system. That means some combination of raising taxes and the retirement age, lowering benefits and implementing means testing.

And Medicare's in worse fiscal shape than Social Security.

As for folks who can't figure out how Haley and the General Assembly could turn down that Affordable Care Act offer of "free" federal loot to raise Medicaid eligibility to people with 138 percent of poverty-level income:

Yes, starting in 2017, the state would have to start paying only an incremental share of that extra expense, topping out at 10 percent by 2020.

Sure. Just like Obamacare was going to let you keep your doctor and your insurance plan if you liked them.

Just like the War on Poverty, launched by President Lyndon B. Johnson a half century ago in his Great Society zeal, was going to vanquish poverty.

Since then, though, we've perpetuated not just an unsustainable, government-dependent system for all but a government-dependent, single-parent-home cycle for the poor underclass.

Then-U.S. Assistant Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued prescient warnings about that pattern in 1965, a year after Johnson declared that war on poverty.

OK, so Moynihan much later, in his fourth and final term as a Democratic senator from New York, voted against the 1996 welfare reform bill signed by Clinton. He warned that if the legislation passed, children relying upon welfare would be "blown to the winds."

But the bill passed, Clinton signed it, millions of Americans moved from welfare to work, and children weren't "blown to the winds."

Still, heart-wrenching appeals for the welfare (pun intended) of children in need remain a powerful political pitch.

Gotta have somethin'

Too bad too few Americans see that too many needy children remain locked in that multi-generational cycle of poverty not despite welfare but at least in part because of it.

And this bottom-line reality lingers: Somebody has to pay the Nanny State's ever-soaring tab.

So heed the enduring wisdom of a 1974 No. 1 Billlboard single by the late, great Billy Preston, who played keyboard for, among others, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. In the third verse of that rousing "Nothing from Nothing," which Preston wrote with Bruce Fisher, he belted out this worthy call for self-reliance:

"Nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin',

And I'm not stuffin', believe you me,

Don't you remember I told ya,

I'm a soldier, in the war on poverty"

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.