What Welfare Reform Says About the United States of America. Values, Government Bureaucracy, and the Expansion of the Working Poor

Author: Welch, Lisa C.
The study examines in-depth the “work first” Welfare-to-Work Grants program as it was implemented in a state that provided relatively generous subsides to low-income workers. The analysis engages in scholarly debates regarding persistent poverty, social welfare policies, and the efficacy of traditional theories of political economy.


“The results of Prof. Welch’s research make it quite clear that there are no easy policy solutions to this problem of integrating the underclass as there are deep structural factors behind its persistence. Work on several fronts and from many different perspectives will have to be coordinated and synthesized if forward movement is to be achieved. Rigid polarizations between factors such as state and market or between the lazy poor and the hard-working rich must be avoided. The behavior of all classes must be constantly re-examined, and the contributions of all relevant factors constantly revaluated. In short, the results of Prof. Welch’s research suggest that it is only within such a political and theoretical framework that positive movement on the problem of the underclass will be realized.” – Prof. Paget Henry, Brown University

“Welch shows that, despite ingrained prejudices in American political culture, welfare bureaucracies functioned efficiently. But the welfare recipients she got to know also got wedged into a psychological double bind of being poor mothers. Required to work, if they were not at home with their children, they were vulnerable to claims of exhibiting poor parenting skills. W2W took no action to insure economic mobility. Lacking the funds of their better-off sisters, her subjects had little time or energy to invest in education unless a service provider found a way to bend the rules. As elsewhere, some became involved in oppositional discourse, but this did not materialize as collective action—despite the mismatch between neo-liberal rhetoric and what the market provided.” – Prof. Mark J. Goodman, York University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Paget Henry
Introduction to the Research Problem
1. The Political Economy of the Mainstreaming Project
2. Research Methods
3. Welfare in Social and Historical Context
4. The Grand Narrative as Lived Experience
5. Bureaucracy at Work in Welfare-to-Work
6. The Embeddedness of Market Rationality
7. Conditions of Employment
8. Does Low Wage Work Pay?
9. Conclusions & Theoretical Implications
Welfare Policies over Time
Organizational Structures of the TANF and W2W Programs
Interview Guides