Janine Jackson: The policies and practices known as “welfare reform,” marked by Bill Clinton’s 1996 signing of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, always traded on a number of myths, often abetted by the media. Myths about how much money the government, or “taxpayers,” spent on Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and what those families receiving assistance looked like. And the myth that the receipt of state support discouraged people from working, creating what was bemoaned as a “culture of dependency” that might affect two or three generations.
But at the center of the myths around welfare and the need for its for reform were always women, and particularly Black women. Shouldn’t they work more? How many children should they have? How is their working, or not working, affecting black men, and the perennially troubled and troubling black family?
For a policy that always claims to be about economics, welfare policy has always been about much more. Recognizing and understanding that can be part of a necessary “reboot,” as my next guest describes it, of the policy conversation around poverty.
Felicia Kornbluh is associate professor of history and gender, sexuality and women’s studies at the University of Vermont. Her books include The Battle for Welfare Rights: Politics and Poverty in Modern America, and she is co-author, with Gwendolyn Mink, of the new book Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform in Feminist Perspective. She joins us now by phone from Vermont. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Felicia Kornbluh.
Felicia Kornbluh: Thank you so much for having me.
We remember 1996, and the fight around welfare reform. We used to put “reform” in quotes then. Media depictions of support recipients as lazy, as having children to avoid work. Diane Sawyer got in a young woman’s face to say, “Why should I pay for your mistake?”
But what was…