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Under Attack, Fighting Back: Women and Welfare in the United States


Paperback, 182 pages
ISBN: 1-58367-008-4
Released: March 2000

Named “Outstanding Book” by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America

This new edition updates a highly acclaimed work with an analysis of the most recent developments in welfare “reform” and welfare rights activism. Drawing on first-hand reports of women forced to leave welfare and other newly available data, Mimi Abramovitz documents the impact of this historic change in public policy on the lives of poor single mothers and their children. She punctures the highly publicized claims that equate successful reform with shrunken rolls, showing that if the reformers set out to improve the lives of women and children, something went dangerously awry. Abramovitz argues that welfare reform has penalized single motherhood; exposed poor women to the risks of hunger, homelessness, and male violence; swept them into low-paid jobs, and left many former recipients unable to make ends meet.

In four readable essays, Under Attack, Fighting Back also presents the long history of punitive attacks on programs for poor single mothers and applies a gender lens to conventional theories of the welfare state. The last essay, a short history of low-income women’s activism during the twentieth century, pays special attention to the welfare rights activism spurred by the latest welfare reform. Contrary to popular wisdom, Abramovitz shows that poor women have always the courage and ability to fight back.

This lively and informative book deserves to be widely read. It provides an excellent history of AFDC and the activities of various women’s groups who have campaigned hard over the years for improvements in services to the poor.

Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

Quite successfuly, [Mimi] Abramovitz weaves a story about welfare in America with historical writings and current research…. The strengths of this book are many…. Abramovitz brings a refreshing litany of facts into the welfare discussion…

Women and Politics

Extraordinarily lucid and useful…. In compact sections, [Abramovitz] describes the current and historical attacks on welfare, offers gender-sensitive theories of the welfare state, and provides an overview of underpublicized welfare advocacy.

In These Times




Part 1. Still Under Attack: Women and Welfare Reform

  • The Wider Context of the Attack on Welfare
  • What Is Welfare? The Core Programs
  • Reasons for the Latest Assault on Welfare
  • Changes in the Political Economy
  • The Ideological Arguments
  • The Latest War on Welfare: Reform in the 1980s and 1990s
  • Cutting the Cost and Size of Welfare
  • Enforcing the Work Ethic
  • Upholding the Family Ethic
  • Childbearing
  • Marriage
  • Parenting
  • Attacking Entitlements
  • The War on Welfare Concerns all Women
  • Why Now?

Part 2. A Program Just for Single Mothers

  • Attacks on Public Aid in the Early Nineteenth Century
  • Creating a Program for Single Mothers
  • The Social Security Act: From Mothers’ Pensions to ADC
  • The Postwar Attack, 1945–1960
  • Welfare, Women’s Work, and the Labor Market
  • Women, Welfare and the Family
  • The Welfare Crisis and Welfare Reform, 1967-1972
  • Low Wages and Labor Shortages
  • A Women’s Right to Choose
  • Still More Welfare Reform

Part 3. The Gendered Welfare State

  • Gender Matters
  • Feminist Critiques and Correctives
  • Bringing the Family in: The Origins of the Welfare State
  • Gender Blind: The Differential Treatment of Women and Men
  • Twin Dynamics: The Work Ethic and the Family Ethic
  • Recreating Race and Gender Hierarchies
  • What About Patriarchy and Gender Oppression?

Part 4. Fighting Back: From the Legislature to the Academy to the Streets

  • The Feminist Corrective
  • Middle-Class Women Take Action
  • Poor and Working-Class Women Rise Up Angry
  • A Woman’s Work Is Never Done: Women’s Activism After World War II
  • Early Welfare Rights Organizing: The National Welfare Rights Organization
  • Welfare Rights Becomes a Woman’s Issue
  • The Struggle Continues: Post-TANF Welfare Activism



Mimi Abramovitzis a professor at the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York. She is the author of Regulating The Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy From Colonial Times to the Present (1996, 2nd ed., South End Press) as well as numerous articles on women, poverty and social policy for professional journals and the popular press.

SKU: mrp0084 Categories: ,

Publication Date: March 2000

Number of Pages: 160

Paperback ISBN: 9781583670088