It’s not just my Hungarian heritage that leads me to highlight a Bloomberg Businessweek article about great-grandfather Kokai’s homeland.

Wielding scythes and pitchforks, about 30 men and women hack through brambles on a hillside above the Hungarian village of Gyöngyöspata. With the nearest road more than a half mile away, workers have to hike in with food and water for the day. For bathroom and lunch breaks, they duck into a thicket that offers the only shade in the 98F heat. “It’s degrading to work in these conditions,” says Károly Lakatos, a 38-year-old father of three who was laid off earlier this year from his forklift-operator job in an auto parts factory. When his unemployment benefits ran out, the government assigned him to a brigade clearing land owned by the village.

If Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has his way, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians will soon join similar squads. Under a plan approved by Parliament in July, by 2012 some 300,000 people will be working in community service jobs—doing everything from picking up trash to building stadiums—instead of drawing welfare or unemployment benefits.

That sounds like a good incentive for them to get jobs. Wondering why they don’t?

No question, Hungary needs jobs. Only 54.6 percent of the working-age population is employed, the lowest rate in the European Union, according to EU data. An anemic economy, forecast to grow 2 percent in 2011, is part of the problem. But the real culprit is the sprawling welfare state created after the fall of communism. To help workers who lost jobs in state-run industries, the government established generous early retirement, disability, and parental leave programs. Those benefits are still in place. According to the EU’s Eurostat agency, in 2008 Hungary spent $5,200 per capita on social protection, vs. $4,088 in Slovakia and $3,706 in Poland. “There are people in this work program who’ve never had a proper job in their lives,” says Oszkár Juhász, the mayor of Gyöngyöspata, which is an hour’s drive northeast of Budapest.

And our elected leaders want to extend the welfare state? Great.