Deciding to Discipline: Race, Choice, and Punishment on the Frontlines of Welfare Reform

American Sociological Review, Vol. 74, No. 3, pp. 398-422, June 2009

30 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2009

See all articles by Sanford F. Schram

Sanford F. Schram

Bryn Mawr College - Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research

Joe Soss

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs

Richard Fording

University of Kentucky - Department of Political Science

Linda Houser

Bryn Mawr College - Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research; Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University

Date Written: June 1, 2009

Abstract

Welfare sanctions are financial penalties applied to individuals who fail to comply with welfare program rules. Their widespread use reflects a turn toward disciplinary approaches to poverty management. In this article, we investigate how implicit racial biases and discrediting social markers interact to shape officials' decisions to impose sanctions. We present experimental evidence based on hypothetical vignettes that case managers are more likely to recommend sanctions for Latina and black clients - but not white clients - when discrediting markers are present. We triangulate these findings with analyses of state administrative data. Our results for Latinas are mixed, but we find consistent evidence that the probability of a sanction rises significantly when a discrediting marker (i.e., a prior sanction for noncompliance) is attached to a black rather than a white welfare client. Overall, our study clarifies how racial minorities, especially African Americans, are more likely to be punished for deviant behavior in the new world of disciplinary welfare provision.

Keywords: Welfare, Sanctions, Implicit Racism, Triangulation

Suggested Citation

Schram, Sanford F. and Soss, Joe and Fording, Richard and Houser, Linda, Deciding to Discipline: Race, Choice, and Punishment on the Frontlines of Welfare Reform (June 1, 2009). American Sociological Review, Vol. 74, No. 3, pp. 398-422, June 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1413908

Sanford F. Schram (Contact Author)

Bryn Mawr College - Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research ( email )

Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
United States

Joe Soss

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs ( email )

301 19th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Richard Fording

University of Kentucky - Department of Political Science ( email )

Lexington, KY 40546
United States

Linda Houser

Bryn Mawr College - Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research ( email )

Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
United States

Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University ( email )

162 Ryders Lane
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
United States

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