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Backlash against Welfare Mothers

Past and Present

Ellen Reese (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 372 pages
ISBN: 9780520244627
July 2005
$34.95, £27.00
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Backlash against Welfare Mothers is a forceful examination of how and why a state-level revolt against welfare, begun in the late 1940s, was transformed into a national-level assault that destroyed a critical part of the nation's safety net, with tragic consequences for American society. With a wealth of original research, Ellen Reese puts recent debates about the contemporary welfare backlash into historical perspective. She provides a closer look at these early antiwelfare campaigns, showing why they were more successful in some states than others and how opponents of welfare sometimes targeted Puerto Ricans and Chicanos as well as blacks for cutbacks. Her research reveals both the continuities and changes in American welfare opposition from the late 1940s to the present.

Reese brings new evidence to light that reveals how large farmers and racist politicians, concerned about the supply of cheap labor, appealed to white voters' racial resentments and stereotypes about unwed mothers, blacks, and immigrants in the 1950s. She then examines congressional failure to replace the current welfare system with a more popular alternative in the 1960s and 1970s, which paved the way for national assaults on welfare. Taking a fresh look at recent debates on welfare reform, she explores how and why politicians competing for the white vote and right-wing think tanks promoting business interests appeased the Christian right and manufactured consent for cutbacks through a powerful, racially coded discourse. Finally, through firsthand testimonies, Reese vividly portrays the tragic consequences of current welfare policies and calls for a bold new agenda for working families.
List of Illustrations
Part I. Welfare Opposition: Causes and Consequences
1. Deferred Dreams, Broken Families, and Hardship: The Impact of Welfare Reform
2. Attacking Welfare, Promoting Work and Marriage: Continuity and Change in Welfare Opposition
Part II. The First Welfare Backlash (1945–1979)
3. The 1950s Welfare Backlash and Federal Complicity
4. Explaining the Postwar Rise of Welfare Opposition
5. Southern Welfare Backlashes: Georgia and Kentucky
6. Western and Northern Welfare Backlashes: California and New York
7. Setting the Stage: The Failures of Liberal Innovation
Part III. The Contemporary Welfare Backlash (1980–2004)
8. The Rise of the Republican Right and the New Democrats
9. Business Interests, Conservative Think Tanks, and the Assault on Welfare
10. Congressional Attacks on Welfare, 1980–2004
11. Rebuilding the Welfare State: Forging a New Deal for Working Families
Appendix 1: States That Restricted Eligibility for ADC (1949–1960)
Appendix 2: Variables and Data Sources Used in Quantitative Analysis
Ellen Reese is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Riverside.
“The value of this carefully researched book is the documentation of antiwelfare and antimother politics as a social construct: the backlash emerged not out of neglect, or as an inexorable feature of capitalist development, but as the product of carefully drawn political coalitions. But Reese does not leave it at that. She documents the horrible consequences for the impoverished children and working mothers who have nothing to say about the shape of welfare. This is essential reading for everyone interested in gender, poverty, and welfare.”—American Journal Of Sociology / AJS
“Reese’s book is an important contribution to the literature on welfare reform and essential reading for students and scholars of social policy and community practice. . . . Its subject matter is critical to the well-being of communities, raises important questions, and offers directions for grassroots community practitioners interested in changing the welfare system.”—Journal Of Community Practice
“Readers of this volume will come away with a deeper understanding of US welfare policy and the history of attacks against public assistance programs that seek to support needy families.”—Journal Of Sociology & Social Welfare
"Reese's masterful study sheds new light on the contemporary welfare backlash by reconstructing the dynamics of an earlier wave of attacks on welfare mothers half a century ago, a history that has long been obliterated from public memory. Her powerful, lucid state-level comparative analysis of the 1950s exposes the critical role of conservative low-wage employers (mainly in agriculture) in launching the anti-welfare campaigns of that era, and she goes on to show how a broader coalition of low-wage employers played the same role in the recent backlash. This is a major contribution to the historical sociology of welfare and deserves a wide readership."—Ruth Milkman, author of Gender at Work.

"This book provides a powerful new understanding of the right-wing attacks on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the United States's major welfare program that was ultimately dismantled in 1996. Reese's rich historical account sheds important new light on our nation's compassionless conservatism."—Fred Block, University of California, Davis

"Thoughtful and extremely well-researched, Backlash Against Welfare Mothers re-examines and sheds new light on the origins of the current welfare "crisis." Reese shows the tragic consequences for welfare families and calls for a New Deal for Working Families. This book could not be more timely."—Joel Handler, author of The Poverty of Welfare Reform

"This is an exhaustively researched book about changing US attitudes and policies toward welfare mothers in the second half of the twentieth century. Ellen Reese richly conveys the profound human costs of the backlash against welfare for the women, children, and families that are bearing the brunt of these attacks. Backlash Against Welfare Mothers is a book on a vitally important topic of great public interest. Reese breathes humanity into both the political players and the victimized welfare mothers."—David A. Smith, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine, former editor, Social Problems

"Backlash Against Welfare Mothers is an important and provocative book that vividly exposes the historical roots and contemporary twists in anti-welfare politics. Ellen Reese forcefully reveals how politics really did matter in the long and sometimes murky pre-history to the "welfare repeal" of 1996, just as they will surely matter again in this ostensibly post-welfare era."—Jamie Peck, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of Workfare States

"Ellen Reese provides a powerful analysis of the reasons why America's poorest families are increasingly being left to struggle on their own. Backlash Against Welfare Mothers authoritatively exposes the politics that have undermined the economic human rights of this nation's impoverished mothers and children. Reese's careful scholarship probes deeply into the forces fueling America's hostility toward welfare and those forced to rely upon it."—Kenneth J. Neubeck, co-author of Welfare Racism: Playing the Race Card Against America's Poor

"Combining methodological rigor with passionate engagement, Ellen Reese shows how Clinton-era retrenchment of welfare and continuing attacks on poor single mothers are only the latest in a series of backlashes against public assistance since the 1940s. Her compelling analysis exposes the major role that low waged business interests, as well as racial resentment and patriarchal family values, have played in the unraveling of America's safety net. A must read for those who would forge a new New Deal for women and their children!"—Eileen Boris, Hull Professor of Women's Studies and Director of the Center for Research on Women and Social Justice, University of California, Santa Barbara

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