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Contextualizing Racial Disparities in American Welfare Reform: Toward a New Poverty Research

  • Sanford F. Schram (a1)


As a result of the 1996 reforms, the number of welfare recipients has declined precipitously, and the reform effort has been heralded a “success.” However, a growing body of research indicates racial disparities in client treatment and outcomes under welfare reform. These findings have inaugurated a debate about interpreting racial disparities under welfare reform and determining what corrective action, if any, is necessary. Some analysts contend that welfare reform, as a post–civil rights era, racially neutral public policy, can legitimately have differential outcomes for different racial groups. I argue that this claim must be countered with a new poverty research that goes beyond the limits of mainstream work by placing welfare reform in its historical and social context, thereby providing a more robust explanation of how and to what effect welfare reform is race-biased. I show how welfare reform contributes to what Loic Wacquant calls “racemaking” by being part of a racial policy regime that has developed from past policy but reinforces current racial inequalities.Sanford F. Schram teaches social theory and policy in the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Bryn Mawr College ( He is the author of Praxis for the Poor, After Welfare, and Words of Welfare, which won APSA's Michael Harrington Award in 1996. His Welfare Discipline: Discourse, Governance, and Globalization is forthcoming. The author thanks Bruce Baum, Wesley Bryant, Tia Burroughs, Anne Dalke, Linda Dennard, Bonnie Thornton Dill, Richard Fording, Burnee Forsythe, Jocelyn Frye, Margaret Henderson, Jennifer Hochschild, Tallese Johnson, Vicki Lens, Amy McLaughlin, Anne Norton, Frances Fox Piven, Melania Popa, Dorit Roer, Corey Shdaimah, Roland Stahl, Roni Strier, Carl Swidorski, Tom Vartanian, Dvora Yanow, Iris Marion Young, and several anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. Joe Soss's invaluable suggestions were critical to the completion of this article.



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Contextualizing Racial Disparities in American Welfare Reform: Toward a New Poverty Research

  • Sanford F. Schram (a1)


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