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Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform

Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, and Richard C. Fording, Editors

Publication Year: 2003

It's hard to imagine discussing welfare policy without discussing race, yet all too often this uncomfortable factor is avoided or simply ignored. Sometimes the relationship between welfare and race is treated as so self-evident as to need no further attention; equally often, race in the context of welfare is glossed over, lest it raise hard questions about racism in American society as a whole. Either way, ducking the issue misrepresents the facts and misleads the public and policy-makers alike. Many scholars have addressed specific aspects of this subject, but until now there has been no single integrated overview. Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform is designed to fill this need and provide a forum for a range of voices and perspectives that reaffirm the key role race has played--and continues to play--in our approach to poverty. The essays collected here offer a systematic, step-by-step approach to the issue. Part 1 traces the evolution of welfare from the 1930s to the sweeping Clinton-era reforms, providing a historical context within which to consider today's attitudes and strategies. Part 2 looks at media representation and public perception, observing, for instance, that although blacks accounted for only about one-third of America's poor from 1967 to 1992, they featured in nearly two-thirds of news stories on poverty, a bias inevitably reflected in public attitudes. Part 3 discusses public discourse, asking questions like "Whose voices get heard and why?" and "What does 'race' mean to different constituencies?" For although "old-fashioned" racism has been replaced by euphemism, many of the same underlying prejudices still drive welfare debates--and indeed are all the more pernicious for being unspoken. Part 4 examines policy choices and implementation, showing how even the best-intentioned reform often simply displaces institutional inequities to the individual level--bias exercised case by case but no less discriminatory in effect. Part 5 explores the effects of welfare reform and the implications of transferring policy-making to the states, where local politics and increasing use of referendum balloting introduce new, often unpredictable concerns. Finally, Frances Fox Piven's concluding commentary, "Why Welfare Is Racist," offers a provocative response to the views expressed in the pages that have gone before--intended not as a "last word" but rather as the opening argument in an ongoing, necessary, and newly envisioned national debate. Sanford Schram is Visiting Professor of Social Work and Social Research, Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Joe Soss teaches in the Department of Government at the Graduate school of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, D.C. Richard Fording is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Kentucky.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. 10-29

Imagine what it would take for welfare politics in the United States to be unaffected by race. The social problems addressed by the welfare system—poverty, health, life skills, and the like—would need to be equally distributed across racial groups. The composition of welfare recipients, both in fact and in the public mind, would have to reflect...


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1. Race and the Limits of Solidarity: American Welfare State Development in Comparative Perspective

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pp. 23-46

The 1990s was not the first era of American welfare reform in the Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society—Americans dramatically reshaped welfare policies, creating the familiar complex of programs that was reformed yet again in 1996. Perhaps the dominant theme of this history has been the deepening and increasingly troubling link between race ...

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2. Ghettos, Fiscal Federalism, and Welfare Reform

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pp. 47-72

Welfare reform in 1996 had little to do with poverty; it had a lot to do with racialized politics of poverty. Conservatives declared that anything was better than the old welfare system for poor women and that their plans for tough work requirements and time-limited benefits was a policy of hope. What they were really interested in was politically ...

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3. “Laboratories of Democracy” or Symbolic Politics?: The Racial Origins of Welfare Reform

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pp. 72-98

In August 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility Work Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), the most comprehensive and far-reaching collection of public assistance reforms seen in decades. While the legislation affected a number of federal programs, much of the discussion surrounding this legislation has been ...

Mass Media and Mass Attitudes

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4. How the Poor Became Black: The Racialization of American Poverty in the Mass Media

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pp. 101-130

Race and poverty are now so closely entwined that it is hard to believe there was a time when discussions of American poverty neglected blacks altogether. African Americans have always been disproportionately poor, but black poverty was ignored by white society throughout most of our history. ...

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5. Race Matters: The Impact of News Coverage of Welfare Reform on Public Opinion

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pp. 131-150

Since the passage of national welfare reform legislation in 1996, media coverage of welfare has been remarkable in at least two respects. First, given the usual tendency for the media to give short shrift to public policy, news coverage of welfare reform policy has been comparatively intense (e.g., Clawson and Trice 2000). Second, and more ...

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6. Racial Context, Public Attitudes, and Welfare Effort in the American States

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pp. 151-168

For decades, social scientists have recognized a connection between the politics of race and welfare policy. Researchers consistently find a strong relationship between the size of a state’s minority population and its generosity to social welfare recipients (Howard 1999). States with larger proportions of minorities tend to be less generous in ...


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7. Queens, Teens, and Model Mothers: Race, Gender, and the Discourse of Welfare Reform

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pp. 171-195

For democratic theorists and other scholars interested in theorizing the promise and pitfalls of citizen participation in the contemporary public sphere, the welfare reform debate surrounding the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) provides an emblematic case study. In the period preceding ...

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8. Putting a Black Face on Welfare: The Good and the Bad

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pp. 196-222

“Everyone who knows anything about welfare knows that most recipients are white.” This is a common statement often made in conversation among people concerned about racist representations of welfare in the mass media. It often goes unchallenged. In fact, in recent years it seems to have taken on the status of an unquestioned truth ...

Policy Choice and Implementation

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9. The Hard Line and the Color Line: Race, Welfare, and the Roots of Get-Tough Reform

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pp. 225-253

The Social Security Act of 1935 laid the groundwork for something poor families had never had in the United States: a federal entitlement to public aid.1 Thirty-five years later, in the wake of legal victories in the 1960s, this entitlement began to bear fruit in the form of greater access and equity in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children ...

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10. Contemporary Approaches to Enduring Challenges: Using Performance Measures to Promote Racial Equality under TANF

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pp. 254-276

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) allows states considerable discretion in developing their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. Although national TANF caseloads have decreased dramatically, recent studies suggest racial disparities exist in caseload declines, case ...

Beyond Welfare Reform: Race & Social Policy in the States

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11. Race/Ethnicity and Referenda on Redistributive Health Care Policy

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pp. 279-297

As the preceding chapters have shown, racial and ethnic diversity has played a significant role in shaping welfare policy outcomes. Despite the importance of this research, the existing literature is limited in two important ways. First, past research on race and welfare policy has focused almost exclusively on a cash assistance program—Aid to ...

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12. Racial/Ethnic Diversity and States’ Public Policies: Social Policies as Context for Welfare Policies

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pp. 298-320

The federal structure of the U.S. governmental system is important in numerous and varied ways. One major implication is that state governments are significant policymakers in the United States. Historically, the states have been the primary domestic public policy makers and, despite tremendous changes over time, they remain so (Elazar 1966). ...


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13. Why Welfare Is Racist

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pp. 323-336

In a racist society, it is inevitable that policies to assist the poor labor system is organized around racial distinctions, so will assistance programs reflect and reiterate those distinctions. Otherwise the too-generous provision of assistance to racially subordinate groups would create an alternative to the low-wage labor to which they are consigned, thus ...


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pp. 337-368


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pp. 369-372

Name Index

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pp. 373-376

Subject Index

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pp. 377-382

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025510
E-ISBN-10: 0472025511
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068319
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068318

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 10 drawings, 1 photograph, 18 tables
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 613205626
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform

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Subject Headings

  • Racism -- United States.
  • Public welfare -- United States.
  • Social service and race relations -- United States.
  • Welfare recipients -- Government policy -- United States.
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