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If You Want to Expand Our Welfare System, Call It 'Assistance to the Poor'

February 2, 2018 in Blogs

By Ashley Jardina, Talk Poverty

The term 'welfare' is inescapably tied to race.


Last Spring, in a 

Source: Author’s analysis of 2014 General Social Survey data.

These same racial attitudes also structure the way policies are designed. They inform which groups we think are deserving of assistance, and which are not. Nicholas Winter, for instance, notes that part of why Social Security is so relatively popular compared to welfare is because of how both policies are racialized. Social Security, he argues, has been framed as a policy that is both universal—that is, it benefits all groups—and as one that has been contrasted with welfare as an earned reward for hard work (stereotypes associated with white people), rather than a handout for the lazy and dependent (stereotypes associated with black people).

In contrast, negative beliefs about the beneficiaries of programs we think of as welfare have arguably lead to a system of surveillance and sanctions. After Reagan popularized the disparaging stereotype of the ‘welfare queen’ in the 1980s, Bill Clinton passed welfare reform policies that restricted access to benefits to satisfy racist attitudes. In addition to placing significant and often unfair burdens on the individuals seeking assistance, these restrictions—like required drug-testing of program applicants, restrictions on where benefits can be spent, and specifications on what types of work count toward required hours—relied on stereotypes and reinforced the belief that beneficiaries of these programs are undeserving. According to work by Joe Soss and Sanford F. Schram, more people believed that welfare benefits lead to dependency in 2003 than in 1989.

The media have played a significant role in establishing the link between poverty, welfare, and race in the public mind. According to Gilens, these trends were forged in the 1960s, when race riots drew the nation’s attention to the black urban poor. In just three years—from 1964 to 1967—the percentage of poverty news stories that featured images of black people grew from 27 percent to 72 percent. These trends have persisted in the present day.

But both Gilens’ and Winters’ work suggests that the media can also help promote anti-poverty legislation by avoiding racialized terms, like welfare, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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