Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2423540
 


 



The Return of the Welfare Queen


Michele E. Gilman


University of Baltimore - School of Law

April 10, 2014

American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2014

Abstract:     
After welfare reform was passed in 1996, there was every reason to hope that the welfare queen was dead. The “welfare queen” was shorthand for a lazy woman of color, with numerous children she cannot support, who is cheating taxpayers by abusing the system to collect government assistance. For years, this long-standing racist and gendered stereotype was used to attack the poor and the cash assistance programs that support them. In 1996, TANF capped welfare receipt to five years and required work as a condition of eligibility, thus stripping the welfare queen of her throne of dependency. Nevertheless, during the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney resurrected the welfare queen. In a barrage of television campaign ads, Romney inaccurately accused President Obama of gutting TANF work requirements, while President Obama responded by touting his own tough-on-welfare credentials. In the subsequent battle over which candidate was toughest on the poor, there was no mention that TANF is largely a failure. While TANF enrollment has plunged since 1996, it has not reduced poverty. Instead, it pushed many poor mothers into the low-wage workforce, where they struggle to survive on meager wages. In addition, many families have slipped out of the safety net altogether, sanctioned by TANF caseworkers or discouraged by TANF's onerous application requirements, privacy-stripping processes, and stingy grants. As a result, only 4.5 million people receive cash assistance through TANF, amounting to 0.47% of the federal 2012 budget. In other words, the political salience of the welfare queen far outstrips her numbers. The good news is that Romney's dependency rhetoric did not work and may have backfired. The bad news is that the welfare queen still lurks behind repeated calls to cut government benefits and to criminalize poverty. This article explores the legacy of the welfare queen, her return in the 2012 presidential campaign, and the current inadequacies of TANF. The article concludes with suggestions to reform TANF in the hopes of burying the welfare queen once and for all.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: welfare, TANF, gender, public benefits

JEL Classification: H53, I31, I38

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Date posted: April 12, 2014 ; Last revised: April 15, 2014

Suggested Citation

Gilman, Michele E., The Return of the Welfare Queen (April 10, 2014). American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2014. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2423540

Contact Information

Michele E. Gilman (Contact Author)
University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )
1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
United States
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