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The State of Welfare: United States 2003

Tony Platt is on the editorial board of Social Justice and is emeritus professor of social work at California State University, Sacramento, California.
This essay is based on a talk prepared for a conference, “Social Welfare in Time of Economic Stagnation,” co-hosted by the Foundation for European Cultural Exchange and the University of Salzburg, at the University of Salzburg, Austria, March 27–29, 2003.

The United States has the most regressive system of welfare for poor people among developed nations in the twenty-first century, and in recent years it has become even more punitive. The world’s self-professed leading democracy lacks a national health care policy, a universal right to health care, and a comprehensive family policy. Welfare applicants are subjected to personal intrusions, arcane regulations, and constant surveillance, all designed to humiliate recipients and deter potential applicants. In recent years there has been a significant decrease in cash grants to the unemployed and underemployed who do not qualify for unemployment insurance. The reorganization of the welfare state began under the Clinton administration with the devolution of federal policies to the states and massive cutting of welfare rolls. The Bush administration, while distracted by September 11 and imperial ambitions, has deepened the cuts and introduced important new policies facilitating access of private organizations to federal grants. The quickly changing economic and geopolitical climate has also generated a profound crisis in the ability of state and local agencies to provide adequate human services to the unemployed and growing ranks of impoverished citizens and immigrants.

Meanwhile, the middle and upper classes enjoy one of the most privileged systems of welfare in the West: a regressive system of taxation; generous government subsidies to business; and employer- and state-subsidized pension and health plans. About two-thirds of the population—some 170 million Americans—are covered by employment-based health plans and over one-third benefit from occupational pensions. “In no other nation,” observes political scientist Jacob Hacker, “do citizens rely so heavily on private benefits for protection against the fundamental risks of modern life.” This massive system of private welfare depends extensively on government interventions in the form of tax breaks, credit subsidies, and legislative regulations.1

Historical Context

From its earliest days, drawing upon the model of the European poor laws in the sixteenth century, U.S. welfare policy has been essentially intimidating and begrudging, “designed to teach a broader lesson to all who observed [its] rituals,” notes Frances Fox Piven, “a lesson about the moral imperative of work and the fate that would befall those who shirked.” The welfare system draws upon racialized and gendered criteria to make distinctions between “worthy” recipients of aid and compassion and “unworthy” exploiters of the public trust.2

There have been three main stages in the development of welfare for poor and working people. During the period from the Civil War to the 1920s, the federal government created a postwar pension system that reached more than a quarter of the nation’s elderly men. The short-lived, federal Freedmen’s Bureau (1865–1872) implemented programs in the South to reverse the ravages of slavery. And in the 1910s and 1920s, states authorized “mothers’ pensions” benefits for some fifty thousand widows with children. But these efforts were sporadic and selective, benefiting only a small section of the unemployed and poor.3

The creation and expansion of a national welfare system took place between the 1930s and the 1970s, initially as a result of a convergence of interests between a militant labor movement and reform-minded capitalism during the depression, and later as a consequence of the civil rights movement. The New Deal inaugurated old-age insurance, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and a variety of public initiatives to alleviate poverty. In the aftermath of the Second World War, millions of returning soldiers benefited from a GI Bill that subsidized education, job training, and housing and family subsidies. In the 1960s, the War on Poverty introduced Medicare, Medicaid, community-based anti-poverty initiatives, and affirmative action programs designed to redress the damage done by decades of racist and sexist employment and educational policies. Despite all these hard-won reforms, the U.S. welfare state never matched up to its social democratic counterparts in Europe.

From the early 1980s to the present, we have witnessed a contraction and reorganization of welfare services to the poor, a reversal of many New Deal and War on Poverty policies that were achieved as a result of intense political struggle. The collapse of the left and the liberal wing within the Democratic Party left a vacuum that was quickly filled by neo-conservative ideologues and by “welfare reformers” within both parties. I will focus on this recent period in this essay.

Legacies of 1996–2000

In August 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Opportunity and Work Responsibility Act, which replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This legislation limited aid to sixty months in a lifetime; required work activities; prohibited legal immigrants from receiving Food Stamps and Social Security Insurance (SSI); required teen parents to live at home or with adult supervision; and limited food stamps for “able bodied,” single, unemployed adults to three months every thirty-six months.4

The passage of TANF in 1996 demonstrated a bipartisan commitment to attacking the meager gains achieved by poor and working families by the 1970s. Between 1994 and 2001, the nation’s welfare caseload was reduced from 5 million to 2.1 million families.5 In addition to cutting welfare rolls, expanding work requirements, and imposing time limits, the legislation provides block grants to the states, which can determine how the funds are to be used and who is eligible for various benefits and services. Moreover, TANF provides economic incentives for state welfare systems to promote marriage and heterosexual two-parent families, and reduce pregnancies in single women.

Long-Term Trends

These changes in the regulation of working-class welfare, which repeal significant aspects of the New Deal, represent a codification and consolidation of trends, which have been under way for a long time. In 1965, the United States ranked twenty-first out of twenty-two Western nations in per capita welfare expenditures. Even in the 1970s, after the expansion of welfare via President Johnson’s War on Poverty, the United States still lagged far behind most of the West. In the late 1970s, the United States spent about 14 percent of the total federal budget on welfare, compared to 24 percent for comparable nations in the West. By 1995, U.S. public social expenditures represented about 17.1 percent of the gross national product, the lowest of ten comparable nations and a little more than half the other nations’ average level.6

During the Reagan and Bush senior administrations, major cuts were made by Congress and state legislatures in programs that primarily serve the unemployed poor, the working poor, single parents, and children: SSI, Medicaid, Food Stamps, school food programs, nutrition programs for women, AFDC, energy assistance grants, public service jobs and training, community development grants, and low-income housing subsidies. At the same time, profit-making human service corporations (especially nursing homes, hospitals, and childcare facilities) dramatically increased their share of public funds through the use of “contracting out” by local and state governments.

Even before new federal rules limiting welfare were passed in October 1996, all states had decreased their maximum grants to welfare recipients and cut their welfare rolls. Between 1970 and 1996, welfare benefits were drastically reduced throughout the country: for example, by 18 percent in California, by 48 percent in New York City, by 58 percent in Tennessee, and by 68 percent in Texas. Between March 1994 and October 1996, the number of recipients of AFDC dropped 18 percent, from 14.3 to 11.8 millions. From 1993 to 1997, welfare caseloads nationwide had dropped by 25 percent. This trend accelerated throughout the 1990s. In the three years from 1995 to 1998, New York City’s welfare rolls dropped by 30 percent, from 1.16 million to 797,000. And in California, from July 1997 through April 1998, the number of families on public assistance was reduced by more than 100,000 or 12.2 percent, the largest decrease in the state’s history. Los Angeles County accounted for one-third of this decrease.7

These statistics mask more profound developments that have been taking place in the organization, ideology, and programs of the welfare system.


Requiring welfare participants to work in return for cash grants—a central feature of TANF—is not a new policy. Welfare grants were linked with work requirements in the federal Work Incentive Program (WIN) in 1967. “Workfare” was also promoted in the Family Support Act of 1988 under which, according to Eileen Boris, and job-search sessions constituted the extent of training, childcare funding never matched need, and the wages of welfare lagged behind rises in the cost of living.”8

TANF increased work requirements without providing more funds to implement them. From 1995 to 1998, in New York City, which has the country’s largest urban welfare program, some 200,000 people were processed through the city’s workfare program. Less than one-third have been able to find full-time or part-time work since leaving the program. Much of the work in the program is “so menial,” notes the New York Times, “that it offers few, if any, skills that employers demand.” Many programs that previously allowed welfare clients to undergo training and education while on welfare have been either eliminated or drastically cut.9

Contemporary welfare policies largely ignore the needs of unemployed men for education and job training. Workfare today serves primarily as a labor market regulator for hundreds of thousands of poor women, who are pushed into an already saturated low-wage labor market, thus decreasing the earning power of this whole sector of the labor force. The 1962 Community Work and Training Program (associated with the War on Poverty) was one of few welfare programs aimed at the needs of unemployed fathers. In the last three decades, policymakers have abandoned this kind of program. Ironically, one of the few places that poor men can now find work—albeit exploitative and grossly underpaid—and mental health counseling is in prison. With a daily count of over fifteen hundred people suffering from severe psychological illnesses, Los Angeles County Jail may be the country’s largest mental institution.10

Imprisonment and welfare are not so much polarized opposites, as they are constitutive elements of an interrelated policy. Similar to the poor houses of the past, which combined work with imprisonment, today’s welfare and criminal justice policies represent a division of labor between different managerial agencies, with jails and prisons primarily containing unemployed men, and welfare agencies primarily regulating unemployed women and their children. Both sets of institutions disproportionately target the most exploited sectors of African-American, Latino, American Indian, immigrant and poor Anglo communities. Some 12 percent of African-American men ages twenty to thirty-four are currently in jail or prison, while African-American women are disproportionately on welfare. During the last twenty years, poor women have suffered the double indignity of declining welfare services and increased imprisonment rates. The number of incarcerated women in the United States tripled between 1985 and 1997, representing ten times the number of women imprisoned in Spain, England, France, Scotland, Germany, and Italy combined.11

Dividing the Workforce

The new welfare policies have aggravated divisions between workers and aspiring workers who have much to gain by joining forces to struggle for decent jobs, wages, and benefits for all that need work. These tensions will continue as long as welfare workers are denied the right to a minimum wage, excluded from unemployment insurance, and unprotected by federal occupational health and safety standards. The new workfare requirements have created a new stratum of indentured workers who have lost previously held welfare rights without gaining any of the basic rights of “free” workers.12

Many workfare participants are taking jobs typically done by public employees. In 1998, for example, some thirty-four thousand welfare recipients did community service in New York’s Work Experience Program, while the city’s workforce was reduced by about twenty thousand employees, or 10 percent. Patricia Williams eloquently captures the dynamics of this process: “In New York City, the poor—many of whom are the descendants of hard-working slaves, or the grandchildren of hard-working sharecroppers, or the children of coal miners, dirt farmers and sweatshop laborers—are to be uplifted from their purportedly lazy ways through the rehabilitative effort of cleaning the subways. Subways in which some of them are living. Their instructors will be unionized workers who have spent decades organizing to improve their own lot, yet whose livelihoods are threatened by workfare’s non-unionized, below-minimum-wage pools of labor.”13

Double Standard of Morality

Current welfare policies limit women’s ability to get financial grants and force most recipients to work outside the home under strict morality regulations. Whereas middle-class women can choose to mix work and family responsibilities, to practice their own sexual orientation, and to seek an abortion, poor women on welfare have no control over these decisions. “Dependency” has come to be associated, in the words of Rickie Solinger, with the “dangerous, pathological behavior” of poor women who make wrong choices.14

The political intent of the new welfare legislation is to force more and more poor women into low paid drudgery with few or no benefits. Most states will use their new discretion to force or cajole women off welfare and into work irrespective of their personal wishes or family needs. “Substituting work outside the home for family labor,” observes Eileen Boris, “workfare denies the value to the labor that poor single mothers already perform for their families and demands that they leave their children as a condition of welfare.”15

Under the 1996 legislation, states that reduce “illegitimate” births without increasing abortion will receive a monetary bonus; teenagers on welfare have to live with their families or relatives. “This social engineering from the political Right,” notes Boris, “intervenes in the lives of the poor to a degree equal to the therapeutic regimes of the Charity Organization Societies and welfare caseworkers of the past.”16 The tax benefits received by the middle class for owning property are not dependent on their sexual behavior meeting the standards of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Similarly, employer-subsidized health care does not require its beneficiaries to sign pledges that they do not use illegal drugs. We subject poor people to morality tests that are not required of any other class-based entitlement programs.

The Racial Divide

Communities of color bear the brunt of poverty and economic devastation in this country. American Indians, Southeast Asians, urban African Americans, and rural Latinos have the highest poverty rates. In South Dakota, for example, Indians made up 7.4 percent of the population, but 53 percent of welfare recipients in 1997. Prior to the 1960s, the limited beneficiaries of social insurance, public assistance and other entitlement programs were typically a small sector of Anglo, working- and lower-middle-class men. It was this group that primarily benefited from pension programs after the Civil War, New Deal public works’ projects in the 1930s, and the GI Bill’s educational subsidies after the Second World War.17

Until the 1960s, racism denied most poor women and men of color access to entitlement programs. For example, “mothers’ aid” programs, established by states between 1910 and 1920 for single mothers with children, gave Anglos more money than African Americans and excluded Mexican Americans. In the 1930s, thousands of Chicanos were forcibly “repatriated” to Mexico in order to save welfare costs and many African Americans were kicked off welfare to meet local demands for agricultural and domestic labor. When Congress authorized grants for single women in 1949, many states used racialized criteria, such as excluding “employable” women, demanding “suitable homes,” and searching for “men in the house.”18

In the 1960s, as a result of the civil rights movement and liberal federal programs, for the first time poor women and men of color began to gain access to entitlement programs that gave people some chance of getting out of poverty and into work. The expansion of welfare rolls in the 1960s was in large part due to the effectiveness of the civil rights movement in demanding that welfare be made a right irrespective of race or morality tests.19 At about the same time, there was also a momentary increase in community-based programs for first-time offenders and ex-prisoners. But by the late 1970s, liberal social policies had been defeated: welfare programs contracted, and jails and prisons expanded at an unprecedented rate.

As welfare and criminal justice policies have became more punitive and vindictive, the incarcerated and welfare populations increasingly resemble a system of apartheid. Following recent changes in welfare policies, African Americans and Latino welfare recipients now outnumber Anglos by about two to one. In New York, for example, by 1998 the city’s welfare rolls were 5 percent white, 33 percent black, and 59 percent Latino. As Eileen Boris puts it, “we need to understand reform in the 1990s as the triumph of a 30-year reaction against the gains of the 1960s, after African American women finally shared in AFDC and welfare finally became a right or entitlement.”20

Bush Initiatives

The new century has ushered in profound changes in the Pax Americana, both in the global aspirations of the American Empire and the realignment of political and ideological power within the United States. Half way through the Bush administration’s term, rightwing internationalists now play a decisive role within government and public discourse over foreign policy doctrines. The ascendancy of hawks is complemented by the decisive shift to the right in domestic policy. The conservative program, initiated in the Reagan years, emphasizes lowering the cost of labor, regressive tax cuts, reductions in environmental regulations, gutting of affirmative action and welfare benefits, and expansion of the military and criminal justice system.21

The Bush administration, strengthened by decisive Republican victories in the mid-term elections (November 2002), promises to fulfill these policy goals, with the right now occupying significant positions of power in Congress, the Department of Justice, and key government departments. With respect to welfare policy, the government has relied on the perspective and advice of Marvin Olasky, a rightwing, born-again historian; John DiIulio, a conservative, born-again political scientist; Attorney General John Ashcroft, who as Senator Ashcroft lobbied to broaden the role of religious organizations in the provision of welfare services; and James Towey, a former legal counsel to Mother Teresa and a government official in Florida, who currently advises the Bush administration on how to get welfare grants to religious groups.22

The TANF law came up for reauthorization in 2002, but Congress has not acted on various proposals due to the mobilization for war and reorganization of government to “combat terrorism.” The Bush administration has introduced legislation that would make eligibility for welfare even more stringent, as well as require most individuals on welfare to work for at least forty hours per week in order to receive cash benefits. The Democratic Party, for the most part, is supporting Republican proposals to make welfare more restrictive and punitive.

The Bush administration and Congress are also proposing major changes in the country’s federal health care programs, established in 1965. Currently, 45–47 million low-income Americans receive benefits under Medicaid and 40 million elderly and disabled people under Medicare. The government’s plan includes giving the states more power to reduce, eliminate, or expand health benefits for the poor; encouraging Medicare recipients to shift to private health plans; and putting caps on health care benefits to the elderly, poor, and disabled. Under such a plan, notes Senator Edward Kennedy, public health care would become “a profit center for HMO’s and other private insurance plans.” Reductions in Medicaid would significantly increase the number of people who are uninsured—currently 42 million—as well as cut back services (such as prescription drugs, eyeglasses, and nursing-home care) to the poor. The Bush plan, notes Jonathan Cohn, “would force many states to cut back a vital and effective health insurance program at the very moment their citizens need it most.” As many as 15 million low income people could be dropped from the Medicaid program and join the ranks of the uninsured.23

Cultural Politics of Welfare

Welfare policy is an important feature of the conservative ideological agenda, a project that can be traced to President Reagan’s effort to use the religious right to discipline the morality of the nation.24 The discourse of welfare plays an important role in articulating and transmitting cultural messages about race and gender, in particular to justify the benefits of “free market” economic policies and to warn of the dangers of “dependency” and “class struggle.” The Clinton administration’s assault on welfare programs (“to change welfare as we have known it”) was motivated primarily by the Democratic Party’s desire to capture the White House by repudiating its liberal past and repositioning itself as an advocate of “third way” neo-liberalism, especially on matters relating to race (crime, welfare, and affirmative action). With the fall from grace of the Clinton presidency, the George W. Bush administration has successfully re-appropriated the politics of welfare from the Democratic Party.

The 1996 TANF legislation included a statutory innovation called “charitable choice” that enabled states to delegate welfare programs to religious programs. There is nothing new about federal support of religious organizations that provide social services: Catholic, Jewish, and Lutheran charities have long relied on federal grants to operate homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other programs. But prior to 1996, religious organizations were required to set up separate, secular agencies to administer federally funded programs and to ensure the separation of church and state. Under TANF, notes Gwendolyn Mink, religious groups are given “the right to maintain and express their religious identities, symbols, and philosophies in programs supported by federal dollars.”25

During the Clinton administration, only four states (including Texas under then Governor Bush’s leadership) aggressively implemented the charitable choice provision. But President Bush made religiosity the centerpiece of his “compassionate conservatism” by establishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and centers in five cabinet departments (Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Justice, and Education) to facilitate church-state cooperation. Bush also advocates raising the cap on corporate charitable donations from 10 to 15 percent and expanding federal grants to religious groups.26

The language of welfare policy is now saturated with the sanctimonious imagery of religiosity, a tendency described by historian Simon Schama as “the habit of dressing the business of power in the garb of piety.” The emphasis on “charitable choice” is primarily driven by an ideological politics, though it also has economic and policy implications. Faith-based policies accelerate the trend towards the privatization of welfare by expanding tax breaks for charitable donations and promoting spiritual, personal solutions to material, public problems. Moreover, under the cover of religious freedom, the Bush administration enables rightwing religious organizations to receive federal funds while practicing employment discrimination, for example against gay and lesbian employees. In sum, notes Gwendolyn Mink, “charitable choice represents a fusion of the neoliberal urge to privatize and the hard Right’s urge to moralize.”27

Crisis in Welfare

While the Clinton administration changed the federal government’s relationship to welfare, a changing world and new Bush policy initiatives have fundamentally altered the landscape of welfare. An expanding economy in the mid-1990s absorbed many former welfare clients—as many as 60 percent by some accounts—into low-paying jobs. Moreover, most states were able to use their growing tax revenues to maintain a pre-1996 level of services and programs. But in the last three years, economic and political changes in the United States have generated an unprecedented crisis in the welfare system.

First, according to Princeton economist Paul Krugman, “We are now living in a new Gilded Age….Income inequality has now returned to the levels of the 1920s.” The United States has more poverty and economic inequality, and lower life expectancy than most developed capitalist nations (it rates just above Portugal in life expectancy). By 1998, the thirteen thousand richest families had almost as much income as earned by the twenty million poorest households. The number of Americans with million-dollar incomes doubled from 1995 to 1999, while the percentage of their income that went to federal taxes dropped by 11 percent. Cuts in capital gains, income, and estate taxes enabled the wealthiest Americans to increase their after-tax income. According to New York University economist Edward N. Wolff, wealth is more concentrated in fewer hands today than at any time since 1929.28

Secondly, the recession and growth of unemployment and underemployment have both increased the ranks of people seeking social services and put additional pressure on the states, not the federal government, to respond to increased demand for services. With time limits running out on the 1996 TANF legislation and the completion of prison sentences handed out to drug offenders in the 1980s, we can anticipate hundreds of thousands of former welfare recipients and state prisoners flooding the job market and service agencies.

Millions of unemployed men and single women with children are now living on or below the poverty line. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, the number of black American children who live in extreme poverty—defined as a family of three living on $7,060 or less annually—has increased to one million, the highest level since the government began collecting data in 1980. In California, one in five children in California is growing up poor, with the child poverty rate higher today than it was twenty years ago. The number of working poor families in California reached a new high of two million in 2001, with Latinos carrying the heaviest burden.29

Moreover, declining tax revenues have plunged state governments into the worst fiscal crisis since the Second World War, according to the National Governors Association. Faced with a $35 billion budget deficit in California in 2003, Governor Gray Davis has proposed $8.3 billion in tax increases and more than $20 billion in spending reduction. Cuts are expected in Medi-Cal benefits, cash grants to recipients of SSI, and local mental health programs.30

Thirdly, the Bush response to a faltering economy has been tax cuts for the wealthy, plus increased spending on military and military-related industries. To combat the growing deficit, the Bush plan is to cut back nonmilitary spending, including bailouts to state governments and welfare programs. Key elements of the Bush tax plan include reductions in the rate of taxation on incomes in the highest bracket, abolition of tax on dividends, and repealing the estate tax. The assumption presumably is that the wealthiest investors will take their tax refunds and reinvest in the stock market. “Almost unbelievably,” says historian Robert Brenner, “the way being charted to revive the economy is to reinflate the bubble.”31

Meanwhile, the “war on terrorism” and war on Iraq have required an extraordinary increase in military and security-related spending. In 2001 and 2002, the military budget increased 6 and 10 percent respectively. The U.S.-Iraq war and the subsequent occupation are projected to have cost $100 billion through next year.32 The Bush administration justifies this budgetary increase in terms of the need to combat terrorism and defend the United States, despite the fact that the U.S. military budget is larger than the next twenty-five countries combined.

It is this conjuncture of geopolitical and national developments, as well as deepening crisis in the economy and state budgets, that means not only the further lowering of the American safety net, but also consolidation of the neo-liberal model of welfare reform.


There have been rare moments in this country’s history when working-class welfare policies offered poor and working people an opportunity to improve their lives without social stigma or personal humiliation. The 1944 GI Bill is perhaps the best example of welfare with dignity. Under this legislation, millions of mostly white, mostly male veterans were encouraged to seek technical and higher education with the help of free tuition and supplies, a living subsidy (including additional payments for children), and low-interest loans for housing. Typically, however, welfare has meant regulated indignity, especially in recent years as the line between imprisonment and welfare has become blurred.

During the last twenty-five years, we have witnessed the transformation of American welfare from a liberal, Keynesian model to a neoliberal, business-driven model. This rupture with the past, engineered by the two leading political parties, was driven by policies and cultural politics that are informed by a racialized and gendered worldview. The resurrection of the warfare state and central role of the right in the Bush administration have closed down for the moment political debate about the future of welfare, but the country’s economic and racial polarization will eventually compel a reconsideration of human service policies.

Meanwhile, it will be an enormous challenge for progressive forces in the United States to develop alternative policies to the rightist discourse. Our task is to envision a program of welfare that does the following:

  • articulates most people’s desire to work, be productive and creative
  • appreciates that taking care of families is real work
  • does not tie economic entitlements to morality tests
  • does not pit women against men, or poor whites against communities of color, or the employed against the unemployed in competition for scarce economic resources
  • provides people out of work with an infrastructure of economic development (education, training, health care, childcare), enabling them to make the transition out of poverty into jobs
  • provides poor people with access to the same kinds of quality human services that are available to the employed and wealthy
  • ensures that recipients of welfare services play an important role in the governance and distribution of resources
  • gives budgetary priority to human services (education, health, welfare, and childcare) over institutions that criminalize and degrade the poor

In sum, we need to be politically engaged in constructing, once again, a vision of the general welfare that resonates in the public imagination. And as economic disparities and the social reverberations of the new imperialism increasingly divide the nation, we will have opportunities to do so.


  1. Jacob S. Hacker, The Divided Welfare State (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 6, 9–10.
  2. Frances Fox Piven, “Welfare and Work,” Social Justice 25, no. 1, (1998): 74.
  3. Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992). Hacker, 92.
  4. Under California’s version of TANF—known as California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKS)—all able-bodied welfare recipients are required to earn their grants through job training, job-searching, or community service. Recipients, with a few exemptions, are limited to tweny-four consecutive months of welfare or a lifetime total of five years. New applicants are limited to eighteen months. CalWORKS requires twenty hours of work per week for single parent families, thirty-five hours for two-parent families.
  5. The analysis of TANF is based on Martha Coven, “An Introduction to TANF,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 14, 2002; Janice Peterson, “Feminist Perspectives on TANF Reauthorization,” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, February 2002; Mark Greenberg and Hedieh Rahmanou, “Imposing a 40-Hour Requirement Would Hurt State Welfare Reform Efforts,” Center for Law and Social Policy, February 12, 2003; and Martha Fineman, Gwendolyn Mink, and Anna Marie Smith, “No Promotion of Marriage in TANF!,” unpublished position paper, 2003.
  6. Hacker, 13–15.
  7. “The Tough-Love Index,” New York Times, December 8, 1996. “A Closer Look at the Decline,” New York Times, February 2, 1997. Piven, 70. Vivian Toy, “Tough Welfare Rules Used as Way to Cut Welfare Rolls,” New York Times, April 15, 1998. “Drop in State Welfare Load Sets Record,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 1998.
  8. Eileen Boris, “When Work Is Slavery,” Social Justice 25, no. 1, (1998): 30.
  9. Alan Finder, “Evidence is Scant that Workfare Leads to Full-Time Jobs,” New York Times, April 12, 1998. Piven, 72.
  10. Men are eligible for and receive General Assistance cash grants from local governments, but they are usually small and temporary. Piven, 71. Boris, 30. Fox Butterfield, “Prisons Replace Hospitals for the Nation’s Mentally Ill,” New York Times, March 5, 1998.
  11. Fox Butterfield, “Prison Rates Among Blacks Reach a Peak, Report Finds,” New York Times, April 7, 2003. Joy James, ed., States of Confinement (New York: Palgrave, 2002), xi.
  12. Piven, 72.
  13. Steven Greenhouse, “Many Participants in Workfare Take the Place of City Workers,” New York Times, April 13, 1998. Patricia Williams, “The Saints of Servitude,” New York Times, October 13, 1996.
  14. Rickie Solinger, “Dependency and Choice,” Social Justice 25, no. 1, (1998): 2.
  15. Boris, 41.
  16. Boris, 31.
  17. Pam Belluck, “A Window to Run Welfare is a Tight Squeeze for Many Tribes,” New York Times, September 9, 1997. Anthony M. Platt, “End Game,” Social Justice 24, no. 2, (1997): 104–106.
  18. Linda Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 37–64. Gordon, 192–199. Boris, 29.
  19. Boris, 30.
  20. Tony Platt, “Social Insecurity,” Social Justice 28, no. 1, (2001). Jason DeParle, “Shrinking Welfare Rolls Leave Record High Share of Minorities,” New York Times, July 27, 1998. Boris, 29.
  21. This shift is reflected in the hard-line influence of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, John Poindexter, and Paul Wolfowitz. On the rise to power of “radical nationalists,” see Anatol Lieven, “The Push for War and the Ascendancy of Radical Nationalism,” London Review of Books, October 3, 2002. Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Eagle Has Crash Landed,” Foreign Policy, July–August 2002.
  22. Gwendolyn Mink, “Faith in Government?” Social Justice 28, no. 1, (2001): 5–10; Herb Kutchins, “Neither Alms Nor a Friend,” Social Justice 28, no. 1, (2001): 14–34; Roundtable Interview with James Towey, June 4, 2002,
  23. Jacob S. Hacker, “How Not To Fix Medicare,” New York Times, July 2, 2003. Robin Toner and Robert Pear, “Bush Proposes Major Changes in Health Plans,” New York Times, February 24, 2003. Jonathan Cohn, “How Medicaid Was Set Adrift,” New York Times, March 6, 2003. “Private health plans (HMOs) have been caring for some people on Medicare for 20 years. Medicare’s costs are higher for patients in HMOs than for patients in the public Medicare plan. Moreover, Medicare HMOs have been leaving cities and counties where they fail to make a profit, and have been charging elderly people premiums of up to $100 per month while paying less and less of the cost of their prescription drugs.” Personal communication from Dr. Tom Bodenheimer, March 19, 2003.
  24. Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation (New York: Atheneum, 1992).
  25. Mink, 6.
  26. The White House blueprint for “Rallying the Armies of Compassion,” Bush’s policy statement on welfare released in January 2001, can be found at
  27. Simon Schama, “The Unloved American,” The New Yorker, March 10, 2003, 35. Mink, p. 9.
  28. Paul Krugman, “For Richer,” New York Times Magazine, October 20, 2002. David Cay Johnston, “More Get Rich and Pay Less in Taxes,” New York Times, February 7, 2002.
  29. Jodi Wilgoren, “After Welfare, Working Poor Still Struggle, Report Finds,” New York Times, April 25, 2002. Tyche Hendricks, “Increase in Child Poverty Found,” San Francisco Chronicle November 5, 2002. Information provided by California Budget Project, Sacramento, California,
  30. Robert Pear, “States Are Facing Big Fiscal Crises, Governors Report,” New York Times, January 26, 2002. Davis’ budget, however, includes a $40 million increase in the state’s $5.3 billion prison budget and $220 million to build a new death row at San Quentin. John Broder, “Californians Hear Grim Budget News,” New York Times January 11, 2003; John Broder, “No Hard Time for Prison Budgets,” New York Times, January 19, 2003. California Budget Project,
  31. Robert Brenner, “Towards the Precipice,” London Review of Books, February 6, 2003, 23.
  32. Washington Post, July 13, 2003.
2003, Volume 55, Issue 05 (October)
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