NY Times Article Illustrates Problems with Gov’t Programs that Define “Deserving” Poor

homelessness, Welfare Policy

Click here to read the NY Times article “Aid to Needy Often Excludes the Poorest in America” by Patricia Cohen

This article highlights the problems with structuring American welfare programs on concepts of “deservingness” of citizens, as those who do not “deserve” government assistance are left on their own with no social safety net or support.  Married parents, low wage workers, the elderly, and the disabled have been categorized by welfare policy as “deserving” citizens and beneficiaries of welfare programs, while single mothers and those who have barriers to work (ex-felons who are continuously discriminated against in the hiring process and then in the workplace, former or current addicts, etc.) have been cast as “undeserving” in welfare policy.  In studies of the American welfare state, this concept of dividing citizens into categories based on their “deservingness” is referred to as the “Two Tiered Welfare State”…This NY Times article does a great job of showing (and not just telling!) these differences through interviews with people who are struggling to get by and have been placed into different categories by welfare policies.

The article chronicles the journey of Charles Constance who was denied Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits in the state of FL before moving to and applying for benefits in the state of LA.  His experiences shed light on the problems with TANF.  In order to receive the meager stipend from the government ($123 per month in Mr. Constance’s case), Constance had to work or do community service.  With a nine year old son, the commute to community service locations became trying.

If you are interested in reading more about the “two tiers” of the welfare state, check out some of the following books:

Deborah Stone Policy Paradox

Christopher Howard The Welfare State Nobody Knows 

Marie Johnson, Georgia Duerst-Lahti, Noelle H. Norton The Sexual Politics of Welfare Policy

Linda Gordon  The Welfare State: Towards a Socialist-Feminist Perspective


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