Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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- University of Michigan Press
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 playedand continues to playin 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 For although "old-fashioned" racism has been replaced by euphemism, many of the same underlying prejudices still drive welfare debatesand indeed are all the more pernicious for being unspoken.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 levelbias 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 beforeintended 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.
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Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform: Edited by Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, and Richard C. Fording.
By Richard C. Fording
University of Michigan PressCopyright © 2003 Richard C. Fording
All right reserved.
Joe Soss, Sanford F. Schram, and Richard C. Fording
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 the population as a whole. The term welfare itself would be stripped of racial connotations, and mass media and public officials would have to find ways to discuss the poor without an invidious racial subtext. To be unaffected by race, the political present would need to be shaken free of its past, so that the welfare system's legacy of racial bias would not limit the possibilities or define the problems for contemporary political action. The formation of political coalitions would need to be liberated from the divisive effects of racial prejudice and residential segregation. Political representation, policy implementation, and the power to influence them would all have to be made innocent of color. The farther one takes this thought experiment, the clearer it becomes that welfare politics in the United States remains entwined with race. It also grows harder to imagine how people in this country could discuss welfare without taking race into account. Yet today, in a remarkable number of political venues, this is precisely what happens. Like the proverbial pink elephant at a cocktail party (the one that no guest will be first to mention), the "problem of the color line" is usually a subject of delicate avoidance when the conversation turns to poverty. Some political elites and policy experts do pay close attention to the ways poverty-related outcomes vary across racial categories. But even in this company, the discourse tends to stay within a narrow range; race is usually treated as a self-evident basis for classifying people and social outcomes. Rather than delving more deeply into the construction or consequences of racial categories, a wide array of actors in welfare politics find it useful to assert that race has limited relevance. Conservatives dismiss the idea that durable racial disadvantages explain patterns of welfare usage. Liberals are equally quick to reject images of welfare as a program directed primarily at people of color. Few public voices suggest that racial subordination (past and present) plays a fundamental role in the ways Americans understand and practice welfare provision.
This book is about race in the United States and its distinctive effects on contemporary welfare politics. Over the past three decades, despite the lack of public attention to this issue, an impressive body of scholarship has grown up around the subject of race and welfare provision. Racial dynamics, in one form or another, played a key analytic role in a number of the classic works on welfare published between the 1960s and 1980s, such as Winifred Bell's Aid to Families with Dependent Children (1965), Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward's Regulating the Poor (1971), and Michael Katz's The Undeserving Poor (1989). More recently, scholars have focused direct attention on the racial dimensions of welfare politics in a series of landmark books, including Jill Quadagno's The Color of Welfare (1994), Robert Lieberman's Shifting the Color Line (1998), Michael Brown's Race, Money, and the American Welfare State (1999), Martin Gilens's Why Americans Hate Welfare (1999), and Kenneth Neubeck and Noel Cazenave's Welfare Racism (2001).
Through these works, as well as a large number of important publications in scholarly journals, evidence and explanation have become more sophisticated, and the interplay of race and poverty politics has come into sharper focus. To assemble the relevant literature, however, one must fish in separate disciplinary streams. Some questions have become specialized topics for historians; political theorists claim others. Much of the empirical research emphasizes field-specific debates about the dynamics of public opinion, policy implementation, or some other dimension of political life. This division of labor offers some advantages, but it also discourages an integrated understanding of how race has shaped the past and present of U.S. social policy. A major goal of the present volume is to counter this tendency toward balkanization. By bringing together diverse scholars with overlapping substantive concerns, we hope to encourage a richer dialogue centered on the role of race in U.S. welfare politics.
The need for such a dialogue, however pressing it may be for scholars, is more urgent for the public at large. During the past three decades, as the various streams of scholarship on race and welfare have flourished, public discussion of this issue has waned. Where in welfare politics today does one find candid talk of race and its impact on social policy? Who speaks openly of racial equality and justice? The contributors to this volume differ in their fields of interest, research methods, and theoretical orientations. But their work converges on a basic message for citizens and public officials: race matters for U.S. social policy. We hope readers will come away from this book recognizing what is lost when discussions of welfare proceed as if race were irrelevant. Whether the venue is Congress or a casual conversation, race should have a place in our deliberations about how the welfare system works, what it does, and what it might become in the future.
Our purpose in this volume, however, is not simply to make a case for race. The assertion that "race matters" in welfare politics is only helpful to the extent that it leads to more searching questions. Which aspects of race matter? How and for whom do they matter? In which arenas and under what conditions? Such questions lie at the heart of explanatory political analysis. They are also a prerequisite for the constructive political action needed to achieve a racially just welfare state. The contributors to this volume aim to illuminate the structural conditions, social processes, and causal mechanisms that account for the significance of race in welfare politics. Their work addresses the political contingencies that determine the scope, magnitude, and form of racial effects in a given place and time.
How, then, does race fit into the contemporary politics of welfare provision? Surely it does not matter now in the same ways it did in the first half of the twentieth century. People of color in the United States have gained political and civil rights (Klinkner and Smith 1999), and significant numbers now enjoy middle-class status (Hochschild 1995). The racial and ethnic composition of the population has become far more diverse, as Hispanic, Asian, and other groups have grown in number (Cohn and Fears 2001). Rather than being shut out of public assistance programs, people of color now make up a majority of public aid recipients (Schram, this volume). The white population now overwhelmingly opposes de jure discrimination (Schuman et al. 1997). The black population is now less concentrated in the South but more concentrated by residential segregation (Massey and Denton 1993). The U.S. population has diversified in ways that make racial and ethnic politics less and less of a "black and white" matter (Wu 2001; Suro 1999). The list could go on, but the key point should be clear. Race may be an enduring "American dilemma," but its role in welfare politics changes over time. The chapters that make up this volume are, each in their own way, designed to advance a historically specific understanding of welfare politics in the United States--a map of its racial dimensions in our time.
Our desire to present explanatory research that has practical relevance for welfare politics today reflects the dramatic changes that recently have taken place in U.S. social policy. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), passed by the 104th Congress. The new law abolished the 61-year-old entitlement program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), that was the primary source of cash assistance for poor women with children. In its place, the 1996 legislation created a program organized around block grants to state governments, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Under the new system, states have gained more discretion over program rules; poor families have confronted new time limits on the receipt of aid, rules and benefits designed to promote work, tougher requirements for program participation, and penalties for noncompliance.
The new system, in conjunction with a strong economy and other changes in public policy, produced a stunning decline in the national welfare caseload. The number of welfare recipients in the U.S. fell from 12.2 million in August 1996 to 5.8 million in June 2000. Evaluations of the reforms appeared in droves, offering a diversity of claims regarding their effects on poor, single women and their children. But even as the 1996 legislation came up for evaluation and reauthorization in 2002, the racial dimensions of reform continued to be ignored by policymakers. What role did race play in the public deliberations and expressions of public support that gave rise to welfare reform? How has race influenced the ways state policymakers and local administrators have used their newfound discretion? How have different racial groups fared under welfare devolution and the new policies it has engendered? By addressing these and other questions, the essays in this volume challenge us to rethink contemporary welfare politics and provide resources needed to understand the role of race in welfare reform.
To provide an overview of the book as a whole, the remainder of this chapter offers a preliminary sketch of the ways race and welfare policy come together in specific arenas of the political process. At the outset, however, two points about the focus of this volume merit some elaboration. First, we emphasize race in this book because we place it among the most crucial forces in U.S. welfare politics, not because we consider it to be "more important" than gender, class, or other aspects of social stratification. Pitting these categories against one another as alternatives is far less productive than identifying the contributions of each and the distinctive characteristics of their intersection in a given place and time. Second, although this book is nominally about race (broadly defined), most of the chapters focus on European and African Americans; other racialized groups receive only intermittent attention. This emphasis is not accidental. It is partly a reflection of the current state of scholarship; it is equally a response to the unique significance that black-white relations and the cultural categories of black and white have had for the development of the U.S. welfare system. Race in the United States is rapidly changing in ways that force scholars to rethink the prevailing emphasis on dichotomous "black and white" analysis. As the scholarship in this volume demonstrates, however, African Americans continue to hold a distinctively prominent and disadvantaged position in U.S. poverty politics.
Historical Process and Institutional Development
"The instinctive attitude of a great many," Marc Bloch (1953, 38) once wrote, is to experience the present as if it stood outside the flow of history--to "consider the epoch in which we live as separated from its predecessors by contrasts so clear as to be self-explanatory." Today, such an "instinctive attitude" toward history remains a stumbling block to understanding the politics of welfare reform. Many efforts to explain the present make only passing reference to earlier sequences of events. In some cases, the past is used simply to "sketch in the historical background" before turning to a snapshot analysis of contemporary reform. Little effort is made to confront the legacies of racial subordination in the United States or the ways in which race has shaped institutional development in this country. In other cases, analysts briefly address racial aspects of U.S. history but do so only to contrast the present era with earlier periods of racial prejudice and discrimination. In these linear accounts of racial progress, one finds the mirror image of sweeping claims that U.S. welfare provision has been unremittingly racist. The past is treated only as a point of contrast, not as a source of contemporary politics; the present is identified as an era in which race matters "less," not an era in which race matters in new ways. As Theda Skocpol (1995a, 129) has argued, such all-or-nothing accounts of race and U.S. social policy cannot help but distort the historical record and its implications for contemporary politics.
African Americans have not invariably been excluded from U.S. public social benefits, nor have they always been stigmatized when they did receive them. The overall dynamic since the Civil War has not been a linear evolution, moving from the exclusion or stigmatization of African Americans toward their (however partial) inclusion and honorable acceptance within mainstream U.S. politics and policies. There have been more ups and downs, more ironies and reversals, in the history of African American relationships to U.S. social policies across major historical eras.In each period of reformation in U.S. welfare history, the relationship between race and social provision has taken on complex and distinctive forms. When Civil War pensions were created in the late nineteenth century (an era of overt white supremacy in most U.S. institutions), over 180,000 black Union veterans received the same eligibility for federal benefits as their white counterparts (Skocpol 1992, 138). By contrast, the state-run mothers' pensions that developed in the early twentieth century generally excluded women of color, a pattern that emerged from the discriminatory use of local discretion and also functioned to reinforce the prestige of the program as aid for "good mothers" (Bell 1965; Gooden, this volume). The Social Security Act of 1935 established a broad national system of provision, but its passage hinged on support from southern representatives of white cotton interests. The result was a bifurcated system that, by excluding domestic and agricultural workers from social insurance coverage, effectively denied African Americans access to the more generous channel of federally controlled resources (Lieberman 1998; Brown 1999). By the next great era of reform, the 1960s, race had taken on a new but no less central role in the political process. Northern migration nationalized race relations as a political issue; the civil rights movement and urban unrest brought these relations to a higher place in the public consciousness. Great Society efforts found much of their inspiration and ultimately some of their political frustration in the demands people of color were making for full inclusion as rights-bearing, democratic citizens (Piven and Cloward 1993; Quadagno 1994).
Close inspection of these historical twists and turns is an essential step in the process of understanding how race and welfare reform relate in our present era. This is so for two reasons. First, historical comparisons make it possible to bring the particular features of our current situation into dialogue with more general theoretical accounts. They help us see what is distinctive, and what is not, about race in contemporary welfare politics. They direct our attention to processes and locales that may seem obscure to current observers but nevertheless have racial consequences. They suggest which types of developments one should expect to enhance or diminish racial distortion.
Second, beyond the merits of comparative analysis, the relevance of historical analysis derives from the fact that political events can never be wholly separated as discrete cases. The sequence of events matters in political life (Pierson 2000). Policy outcomes in one era can generate political contradictions that must be resolved in the next (Quadagno 1994). They can influence which political conflicts emerge and which political arenas serve as their eventual site of resolution (Skocpol 1992). They can shape popular understandings of social problems, perceptions of social groups, and orientations toward political demand making (Schneider and Ingram 1997). Some political choices create "path dependencies," self-reinforcing dynamics in which once-imaginable alternatives come to be seen as too costly, obscure, or inconsistent with current practice to merit serious consideration (Pierson 2000). Other political choices generate negative feedback: cultural backlash, countermovements, or a conventional belief that we must avoid repeating some "mistake" of an earlier period. For these and other reasons, efforts to understand contemporary welfare politics must seek out and illuminate the presence of the past.
Accordingly, the first section of this volume focuses on historical processes and patterns of institutional development in U.S. welfare politics, giving special attention to their racial origins and implications. In chapter 1, Robert Lieberman presents a cross-national analysis of how racial divisions have contributed to welfare state development in the United States, Great Britain, and France. His chapter not only highlights how racial politics has shaped the structure of the U.S. welfare system; it also clarifies the mechanisms that account for such racial effects. Specifically, Lieberman directs our attention to the ways different racial formations may encourage or impede the development of pro-welfare political coalitions. His analysis elucidates the distinctive features of race in U.S. politics as well as the racialized nature of institutional arrangements that remain at the heart of recent struggles over welfare reform.
Excerpted from Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform: Edited by Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, and Richard C. Fording. by Richard C. Fording Copyright © 2003 by Richard C. Fording. Excerpted by permission.
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