Martha Albertson Fineman
Emory University School of Law
Emory Legal Studies Research Paper 12-221
The issue of welfare reform has generated a great deal of discussion in political and public arenas. Some participants in this debate assume that the goal of welfare reform can and should be the eradication of public financial support for those who currently rely on welfare subsidies to provide for themselves and their families. The debate has focused on single mothers, who have become the targets of social scorn and are often characterized as paradigms of welfare gone wrong.
These characterizations of welfare mothers rest upon a set of assumptions: that dependency is avoidable or the belief that certain types of societal transfers are earned and the recipients are therefore entitled to receive them, while other subsidies are charitable concessions to those people who are too irresponsible to provide for themselves.
Each of these assumptions about welfare mothers contains flaws. This article argues that all individuals in our society, including those who consider themselves independent, receive some form of subsidization. Dependency and subsidy as social phenomena are inevitable and universal.
Real welfare reform should not be mired in simplistic notions about dependency, stigmatizing dependent individuals as pathological. Real reform would embrace the notion that everyone in society – both those welfare recipients whom society currently labels as dependent and the members of other, more fortunate classes who receive their subsidies through the tax system or social security – is the recipient of governmental support in some forms. Those people who care for dependents and thus perform the essential societal task of nurture and care should not be dismissed as dependent, but instead compensated and respected for the valuable labor they provide.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 12
Keywords: welfare, welfare reform, dependency, caretaker, subsidization, single mothers, feminism, marriage, maternal work, workfareAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 21, 2012 ; Last revised: September 25, 2012
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