Ending poverty as we know it": Another exercise in symbolic politics
J. F. Handler
Americans are again concerned about welfare - Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) - and politicians are again proposing to reform the system. According to the author, at issue is not the cost of AFDC, but what the money is supposedly being spent for: to "reward" young women without educations or skills for bearing children out of wedlock; the subtext is that such women are inner- city, substance-abusing blacks spawning a criminal class. But this supposition is based on false notions of the welfare population, the author argues. AFDC recipients are a diverse group; most are working or trying to work, although the low skills and poor educations of many often preclude work as a reasonable option; and long-term welfare receipt is the exception, not the rule. The current reform proposals are doomed to fail since they are based on the same old misguided assumptions as to the causes of and cures for welfare dependency - reforming the recipient instead of improving the labor market. The author concludes that the current reform frenzy is another exercise in symbolic politics, affirming mainstream norms by stigmatizing the poor.
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