The Nature of Dependencies and Welfare 'Reform'

26 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2012

Date Written: 1996


Welfare reform is a definitive moment in this history of America. We are making determinations about our social welfare system with significant and widespread implications for the weakest and most defenseless Americans. It is widely understood that the social safety net is being torn apart by the rhetoric of budget necessity and professed American moral values.

The articulated assumptions and assertions advanced for the proposed changes in welfare must be challenged. Words such as 'dependency' are thrown into discussion in order to cut off debate. But 'dependency' and analogous stigmatizing words and phrases are not unambiguous. Misuse of such terms to neatly divide Americans into categories such as the 'righteous independent taxpayer and the 'deviant undeserving dependent welfare recipient' should not be allowed to substitute for a principled inquiry into what should be the nature and extent of state responsibility for the economic and social well-being of all citizens in this country.

This paper argues that we should do away with the misperceptions and myths that obscure the problem and recognize and address the fact that motherhood is work. As important work, it should be compensated. This is accomplished in most industrial democracies through a universal government transfer in the form of a child allowance or through basic income guarantee.

It should be clear that the current form of the debate about single moms, welfare, and work is not about real reforms; it is not even about real problems. Expressed through potent symbols, the debates are really about gender, race, and disciplining women who fail to confine themselves to the patriarchal family.

Keywords: welfare reform, dependency, caretaking, patriarchal family, single motherhood, family, maternal work, workfare, feminism

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, The Nature of Dependencies and Welfare 'Reform' (1996). Santa Clara Law Review, Vol. 36, 1996, Emory Public Law Research Paper, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Martha Albertson Fineman (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-2421 (Phone)

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