Shadow Works and Shadow Markets: How Privatization of Welfare Services Produces an Alternative Market
31 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2012 Last revised: 30 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2012
The Author explores Ivan Illich’s misplaced ideas of gender roles and examines how privatization of welfare services has legitimized a shadow economy and work through mandated community service jobs. The Article provides a historical perspective of how social services were handled, leading to the current cost/benefit legacy of welfare privatization utilized by the Wisconsin Works program (W-2). Wisconsin’s program requires women recipients to engage in volunteer work, creating a subsidized labor force for private agencies based on the presumption that work, even meaningless and menial tasks, establishes job-readiness for women on welfare. The Author suggests that we need to begin thinking about how to recreate the framework for providing public services. The community service component of W2 and its actual function powerfully demonstrates how W-2 mothers have become a reserve labor force. But at the same time the contours of W-2 make reserve labor status profitable, not for the mothers, but for the sub-contracted agencies. The relationship between W-2 mothers, the status of community service, and the position of sub-contracted agencies have generated a shadow market as a consequence of welfare privatization. The ways in which these women are held captive to a world without work, a world without skill building, and limited ways out become the grounds upon which sub-contracting agencies generate profit. Under the shroud of “cost effectiveness,” private agencies are reaping the financial windfall of “pimping” the state based on their ability to market their skills at converting welfare mothers into low-wage workers.
Keywords: Ivan Illich, gender roles, Wisconsin Works, W-2, shadow work, capitalism, Welfare mothers, child welfare
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