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Marina Vishmidt, “Human Capital or Toxic Asset: After the Wage”

February 8, 2011 1 comment

“Human Capital or Toxic Asset: After the Wage”

Marina Vishmidt

Reartikulacija, 2010. [link]

This is a sequence of reflections on affirmation and negation, on identification and severance: determinate negation as strategic affirmation, the identification of concrete universals and severance from a defunct relation. These lines will be explored with reference to the current situation of the waged and unwaged working class, most proximately in Britain, as “debt” becomes the ideological white noise and the practical horizon of all social and political imagination. Household indebtedness is confused with the state deficit in the spontaneous ideology of the Conservative austerity agenda, as what remains of the crisis-riddled economy is sacrificed to the “debt” – as poor people to loan sharks, so Britain to the bond investors. The nationalist narrative of “we’re all in this together” eliminates any space for discussion as to who might bear greater responsibility for the crisis, and who should be paying for it. The announced cuts make it all too clear – it’s the bloated public sector and welfare payments which are responsible, and those that have the least shall have even that taken away, as the Biblical parable goes. Yet a fatalistic consensus prevails for now, transfixed by a menace beyond dispute: the “debt.” Read more…

Madame Tlank, “The Battle of all* Mothers (or: No Unauthorised Reproduction)”

January 30, 2011 Leave a comment

“The Battle of all* Mothers (or: No Unauthorised Reproduction)”

Madame Tlank

mute vol. 2 no. 9, 2008. [PDF]

Well Jeff, … the fact is that you have the luxury of knowing that you will never ever ever ever EVER be faced with the government bossing you around like a child, simply because you have a parasite living in your body.

– The Law Fairy, Feministing.com

By now people have forgotten what history has proven: that ‘raising’ a child is tantamount to retarding his development. The best way to raise a child is to LAY OFF.

– Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, 1970

In what follows I wish to consider the effects of recent UK health and social policies on women and their children who are labelled ‘at risk’.[1] Read more…

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Creating a Caring Society”

January 25, 2011 2 comments

“Creating a Caring Society
Evelyn Nakano Glenn
Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 29, No. 1, Utopian Visions: Engaged Sociologies for the 21st Century (Jan., 2000), pp. 84-94 [PDF]

Why is it important to achieve a society that values caring and caring relationships? The answer might appear obvious: It seems inherent in the definition of a good society that those who cannot care for themselves are cared for; that those who can care for themselves can trust that, should they become dependent, they will be cared for; and that people will be supported in their efforts to care for those they care about. But even more is at stake. Currently we are caught in a nasty circle. To the extent that caring is devalued, invisible, underpaid, and penalized, it is relegated to those who lack economic, political, and social power and status. And to the extent that those who engage in caring are drawn disproportionately from among disadvantaged groups (women, people of color, and immigrants), their activity-that of caring-is further degraded. In short, the devaluing of caring contributes to the marginalization, exploitation, and dependency of care givers. Conversely, valuing and recognizing caring would raise the status and rewards of those who engage in it and also increase the incentives for other groups to engage in caring. Thus, a society that values care and caring relationships would be not only nicer and kinder, but also more egalitarian and just. Read more…

Categories: affect/care, migration, welfare

Jill Quadagno, “The Politics of Motherhood”

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Politics of Motherhood”

Jill Quadagno

Chapter Six, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty, Oxford University Press, 1994.  [PDF]

During the first half of the turbulent sixties, child-care policy remained disengaged from the volatile battles raging over race and rights. Rather, improving child care remained the obscure mission of two federal bureaus, the Women’s Bureau and the Children’s Bureau. Before the decade was over, child care, too, became embroiled in the struggle for racial equality. Child care provided through the War on Poverty’s Headstart program was designed to provide enriching experiences for poor children, which in practice meant black children. Day care provided to welfare mothers to reduce the welfare rolls also disproportionately benefited African Americans.

In seeking to build a right-of-center coalition, Richard Nixon seized upon child care as a program that might accomplish that goal. In his first message to Congress, he promised to provide all young children a “healthful and stimulating development.” [1] The problem was that his welfare reform scheme – the Family Assistance Plan – contained a day-care component. As day-care costs became entangled in the controversy over the FAP, Nixon abandoned his commitment to children.

It wasn’t only the FAP that undermined support for a comprehensive child-care plan. Equally significant was public ambivalence about the escalating numbers of working mothers. If the government embarked on policies that encouraged welfare mothers to work, what implications might such policies have for all families? Federal support for child care was defeated both because of its connection to welfare reform, and thus to one of the most controversial and racially charged issues of the decade, and because of its implied validation of the right of all mothers to work. Read more…

Categories: child care, histories, welfare

Eileen Boris and S. J. Kleinberg, “Mothers and Other Workers: (Re)Conceiving Labor, Maternalism, and the State”

December 2, 2010 Leave a comment

“Mothers and Other Workers: (Re)Conceiving Labor, Maternalism, and the State”

Eileen Boris and S. J. Kleinberg

Journal of Women’s History, 15:3 (Autumn, 2003), 90-117. [PDF]

This article interrogates the gendering of labor and welfare history as part of an examination into the meaning of work, its connection to social welfare policy, and definitions of what constitutes a “real” family in the United States. It examines the gendering of labor based upon the largely male model of waged labor and the exclusion of women of color from the early phases of women’s labor history. By integrating caregiving and domestic production into analyses of work and welfare, it analyzes how the troika of class, race, and gender (especially as complicated by marriage and motherhood) have become central issues in the history of labor. It explores the racialized and gendered construction of labor and welfare legislation and the redefinition of women’s “rights” in contemporary America as participation in the waged workforce, not the right to choose how to combine motherwork and economic survival. Read more…

Nancy Fraser, “Women, Welfare and the Politics of Need Interpretation”

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

“Women, Welfare and the Politics of Need Interpretation”
Nancy Fraser
Thesis Eleven No. 17, 1987.

What some writers are calling “the coming welfare wars” will be largely wars about, even against, women. Because women comprise the overwhelming majority of social-welfare program recipients and employees, women and women’s needs will be the principal stakes in the battles over social spending likely to dominate national politics in the coming period. Moreover, the welfare wars will not be limited to the tenure of Reagan or even of Reaganism. On the contrary, they will be protracted wars both in time and in space. What James O’Connor theorized nearly fifteen years ago as “the fiscal crisis of the state” is a long-term, structural phenomenon of international proportions. Not just the U.S., but every late-capitalist welfare state in Western Europe and North America is facing some version of it.’ And the fiscal crisis of the welfare state coincides everywhere with a second long-term, structural tendency: the feminization of poverty. This is Diana Pearce’s term for the rapidly increasing proportion of women in the adult poverty population, an increase tied to, inter alia, the rise in “female-headed households.” 1,2 In the U.S., this trend is so pronounced and so steep that analysts project that, should it continue, the poverty population will consist entirely of women and their children before the year 2000.3 Read more…

Categories: welfare

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Deschooling Society

Ivan Illich

New York, Harper & Row, 1971.

Contents

Introduction xix

1. Why We Must Disestablish School

2. Phenomenology of School

3. Ritualization of Progress

4. Institutional Spectrum

5. Irrational Consistencies

6. Learning Webs

7. Rebirth of Epimethean Man

Read more…

Categories: education, welfare

Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, “Organizing Home Care: Low-Waged Workers in the Welfare State”

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

“Organizing Home Care: Low-Waged Workers in the Welfare State

Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein

Politics and Society, Vol. 34 No.1, March 2006, 81-107. [PDF]

Commemorating the death of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1988, a hundred Los Angeles home care workers marched to demand union recognition. “This is Memphis all over again,” civil rights leaders addressed the mostly female and minority crowd. “We are saying again today, ‘We are somebody.’ We’re men and women who deserve to be treated with dignity”! For over a decade, all across the nation, these caretakers of the frail elderly and the disabled had been asking for “respect, dignity and an increase in our wages.”2 They were a hidden workforce, located in the home and confused with both the labor of domestic servants and the care work of wives and mothers.3 After 74,000 entered the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 1999, media celebrated these minimum-waged, predominantly Latina, Black, and immigrant women, who pulled off the largest gain in union membership since the sit-down strikes of the 1930s.4 This organizing, however, depended on the welfare state location of the labor-that is, on the prior organizing of home care through law and social policy during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Read more…

Categories: labor and capital, welfare

Theda Skocpol, “A Society without a ‘State’? Political Organization, Social Conflict, and Welfare Provision in the United States”

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

“A Society without a ‘State’? Political Organization, Social Conflict, and Welfare Provision in the United States”

Theda Skocpol

Journal of Public Policy, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1987), pp. 349-371

This article was originally presented at the Institute on ‘Foreign Perspectives on the U.S. Constitution,’ sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies at the Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, Wisconsin, on 29 September 1987. It draws upon some material presented in the introduction to The Politics of Social Policy in the United States,  edited by Margaret Weir, Ann Shola Orloff, and Theda Skocpol (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

‘State and society’ are terms of reference bound to seem out of place in a discussion of the Constitution and governance of the United States of America. As an insightful observer once put it (Pollard 1925, 31), ‘Americans may be defined as that part of the English-speaking world which instinctively revolted against the doctrine of the sovereignty of the State and has … striven to maintain that attitude from the time of the Pilgrim Fathers to the present day.’ Citizens of the United States view themselves as fortunate not to be subject to any overbearing ‘State.’ And foreign observers rightly have trouble identifying elements of concentrated sovereignty in the American political system – except, perhaps, when the USA acts aggressively on the world stage.

This article will touch upon historical reasons why Americans lack a sense of the state. Primarily, however, I shall argue that we can learn a surprising amount about American society and politics by treating state-society relationships in more analytical terms. It is an ethnocentric illusion to imagine that the United States has been a dynamic society and capitalist economy ‘unencumbered’ by any state. Instead, the specific organizational forms that state activities have taken in America have profoundly affected the social cleavages that have gained political expression, and helped to determine the sorts of public policies that US governments have – and have not – pursued from the nineteenth century to the present day. Drawing upon my own current research, I can illustrate this argument by exploring why US patterns of public social provision differ from those associated with European welfare states. If the US constitution is construed broadly to mean not just a document drawn up in 1787-8 but an entire configuration of governance with associated cultural meanings, then this constitution has much to tell us about why American social policies have come to be as they are. Read more…

Categories: histories, welfare

Gwendolyn Mink, “The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”

Gwendolyn Mink

Feminist Studies, Vol. 24 No. 1 (Spring, 1998). pp. 55-64.

I have worked in various political venues on welfare issues for ten years-for about as long as I have been researching and writing about women and U.S. social policy.’ Most recently, I worked as a Steering Committee member and cochair of the Women’s Committee of 100, a feminist mobilization against punitive welfare reform. I signed up with the Women’s Committee of 100 in March or April of 1995-roughly a year after completing a book on welfare policy history and around the same time as the book’s publication.2

I have always done both politics and scholarship, so directing my activism toward my field of professional expertise at first did not seem especially odd or problematic. However, I had just published a book critical of experts like me-a book which, among other things, faulted solipsistic women welfare innovators of the early twentieth century for building a welfare state harmful to women and to gender equality. The book was barely between covers, and I had already embarked on a path of policy advocacy that veered disturbingly close to the reformers I had criticized. There I was, consorting with a group of supereducated, do-good feminists, most of whom would never need a welfare check. And there we were, using our social and professional positions to gain entry into congressional offices, where we spoke against reforms that would affect not us but poor women. It seemed to me that maybe I hadn’t really internalized the lessons I had drawn from early-twentieth-century welfare history. Read more…

Categories: Feminisms, housework, race, welfare

Alisa Del Re, “Women and Welfare: Where Is Jocasta?”

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

“Women and Welfare: Where Is Jocasta?”

Alisa Del Re

Chapter Seven, Radical Thought in Italy. Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno, eds.

In the Oedipus myth, Oedipus’s body and his desires significantly contribute to
the making of the individual’s free will, his autonomy as well as the relationship
between knowledge and will. Yet the other body at stake, that of his mother, Jocasta,
is hardly visible. We know nothing about her, neither her desires, nor her guilt,
nor whether she is self-aware.1 She is the Mother, unself-conscious and loving, and
nothing is said about her concerns, her aspirations, and her needs. She has no desire:
in Oedipus’s drama she endures and disappears. Not even Freud is interested in
Jocasta, and in his interpretation of the Oedipus myth he disingenuously disregards
the mother, who must have certainly suffered, as well as felt emotions and
desires. The relationship between mother and son is so asymmetrical, and the interpretation
of their desires so incommensurable, that in both the myth and contemporary
psychoanalytic interpretations of it, we are presented with a mutilated reading
of the situation. The Oedipus myth thus stands as the most blatant emblem of
the phallocentric bias of an interpretation that claims to be “scientific.” This type
of reading denies the question of sexual difference as it is inscribed in the story and
refuses to acknowledge Jocasta as a constitutive element of both reality and the formation
of thought.

As of today, things have not really changed. In a recent issue of
the French journal Sciences Humaines, a long series of articles proposed that the
human sciences are founded on a few constantly reformulated themes, questions,
and myths that continue to fuel research in the humanities.2 The articles do not
take into account, as a crucial fact, the question of sexual difference. None of the
pieces in the collection acknowledges that the object of analysis, the human being,
is gendered, that gender is instrumental for the human being’s social constitution,
or that gender concerns and informs the categories of race, class, and ethnicity. The
fact that sexual difference does not invest only one minority, to which fundamental
issues can be referred, but rather is per se a fundamental issue is never mentioned
at all. The question of sexual difference is thus emptied of meaning in the name of
a subject who, in the symbolic order of the researcher, is imagined as masculine
and in the name of a society whose power and organizational structures are founded
on this subject. To think the difference between man and woman as incommensurable
and asymmetrical implies an interpretation of reality and of the production
of discourse that acknowledges sexual difference as the foundation of social reality.
This difference constitutes a necessary value, capable of producing change; as such,
it represents a tool of analysis superior to the current paradigms of research. It is
worth stressing that we are not dealing with the mere task of “adding” women here
and there in our studies; such a move would only have the effect of assimilating a
new element within an unchanging symbolic order. Feminist discourse in the social
sciences has already offered suggestions and pointed to new directions for an analysis
that could confer meaning and human value upon the real.3 Read more…

Categories: Feminisms, welfare

Carlo Vercellone, “The Anomaly and Exemplariness of the Italian Welfare State”

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Anomaly and Exemplariness of the Italian Welfare State”

Carlo Vercellone

Chapter Six, Radical Thought in Italy. Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno, eds.

In many respects, the experiences of the Italian Welfare State represent a particular
case. The comparatively late industrial development, the continuity and ferocity
of the workers’ struggles and social movements, the high levels of Mafia activity and
political corruption, and above all the radical division between the northern and
southern parts of the country all make Italy an anomaly with respect to the rest of the
developed capitalist countries. Precisely because of these anomolous conditions, however,
the Italian experience may paradoxically prove to be exemplary for the future
of all welfare systems. The need to manage an internal relationship between North
and South, for example, has now become a generalized condition for all capitalist
economies. Most important, the Italian experiences, especially those emanating from
the social movements of the 1970s, show the possibilities of alternative forms of
welfare in which systems of aid and socialization are separated from State control
and situated, instead in autonomous social networks. These alternative experiments
may show how systems of social welfare will survive the crisis of the Welfare State. Read more…

Categories: welfare

Contra Costa Times, “Parents anguish over child care cuts” [10/19/2010]

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

“Parents anguish over child care cuts”

Rick Radin, Contra Costa Times [10/19/2010]

[Petition to save Stage 3 childcare and jobs]

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s elimination of a child care subsidy, benefiting 8,000 children in the Bay Area and more than 57,000 statewide, has parents and providers upset and worried.

The loss of the subsidy will cost low-income parents hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars a month, depending on how many children they have who were covered by the subsidy.

The program, known as CalWORKs Stage 3, gives continuing child care subsidies to parents who have been out of the CalWORKs welfare-to-work program for job training and education for at least two years.

California will end Stage 3 payments Nov. 1, but child care providers haven’t been paid since July 1 because of the delay in settling the state budget. The state has promised that it will make up the back payments.

Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, announced a proposal this week that would go around the governor and restore funding until a new chief executive takes office in January.

Kamilla Wade, 27, holds her newborn son Kai, as she and her daughters Kalani, 6, and Kiara, 9, look out from their Antioch, Calif. home on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010. Wade is receiving stage 3 childcare subsidies for her girls under the state CalWORKS program which has been eliminated beginning Nov. 1. Wade's two daughters together receive $1,200 a month in childcare under the program and her newborn son will require an additional $1,200 a month after she returns to work. (Sherry LaVars/Staff)

Schwarzenegger killed the program in one of several line-item vetoes after completing a budget deal with the Legislature earlier this month. Eliminating the child care subsidy is intended to save the state about $256 million a year.

About 1,700 children in Contra Costa County and 2,200 in Alameda County will lose their subsidies, according to the Contra Costa Childcare Council, the county’s largest child care network.

Elimination of the program will leave parents who rely on help to stay in the work force with few, if any, options, said council Director Kate Ertz-Berger.

It also may cause children to be yanked from providers with whom they are prospering to face an unknown future with lower-cost providers or even less-stable arrangements, Ertz-Berger said.

Alternatively, some parents may choose to quit their jobs to stay home with their children and apply for county welfare, she said.

“The bottom line is families will be devastated,” Ertz-Berger said. “Children will lose the ability to prepare for school.”

Elimination of the program was part of $962 million in cuts the governor made to restore a state “rainy day” fund to a $1.3 billion balance, said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the state Department of Finance.

About $1.7 billion in other categories of child care subsidies are still available, Palmer said.

“The reserve (fund) was unacceptably low,” he said. “Not to single out child care, but the reserve was not sufficient.” Read more…

Categories: child care, news, welfare

Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Mr. Welfare Man”

September 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Lyrics

(Keep away from me, Mr. Welfare)
They just keep on saying I’m a lazy women, don’t love my children and I’m mentally unfit
I must divorce him, cut all my ties with him cuz his ways they make me say
It’s a hard sacrifice (hard sacrifice), not having me a loving man
Society gave us no choice, tried to silence my voice pushing me on the welfare
I’m so tired, I’m so tired of trying to prove my equal rights
Though I’ve made some mistakes for goodness sakes, why should they help mess up my life?
Ooh, So keep away from me, Mr. Welfare. Did you hear me? Keep away from me, Mr. Welfare

Holding me back, using your tact, to make me live against my will, (hard sacrifice)
If that’s how it goes child, I don’t know, I can’t concede my life’s for real
It’s like a private eye for the FBI, just as envious as the Klu Klux Klan
Though I’m of pleasant fate it’s hard to relate, I’ll do the very best I can
Ooh, so keep away from me, ooh ooh Mr. Welfare
No no, did you hear me? (Keep away from me) don’t come near me, stay away, Mr. Welfare
They keep on saying I’m a lazy women, don’t love my children and I’m mentally unfit
I must divorce him, cut all my ties with him cuz his ways they make me say

Oooh, It’s a hard sacrifice. No no no no Lordy. Mr. Welfare, Stay away Mr. Welfare
I’m so tired, I’m so tired of trying to prove my equal rights
Though I’ve made some mistakes for goodness sakes, why should they help mess up my life?
Whoo whoo so keep away from me, Ooh ooh Mr. Welfare. Don’t you hear me? (Keep away from me)
Stay away Mr. Welfare.
They keep on saying I’m a lazy women, don’t love my children and I’m mentally unfit
I must just divorce the man, cut all my ties with him cuz his ways they make me say

Oooooooo, it’s a sacrifice (hard sacrifice), I gotta testify. (hard sacrifice)
Mr. Welfare, Mr. Welfare (hard sacrifice, hard sacrifice) I’m so tired, I’m so tired (hard sacrifice)
I’m so tired, of trying to prove my equal rights
Though I’ve made some mistakes for goodness sakes, why should they help mess up my life?
Whoo whooo whoo keep away from me, Mr. Welfare
Did you hear me? Keep away from me, Oooh Mr. Welfare
They keep saying I’m a lazy women, don’t love my children and I’m mentally unfit
I must divorce him, cut all my ties with him cuz his ways they make me say
It’s a hard sacrifice. I just want to testify. Lordy Lordy Lordy Lordy
Um hmmm, keep away from me. Get on, get on, keep away from me, move on, Mr. Welfare
Keep away from me

Categories: welfare

Ellen K. Feder, “The Dangerous Individual(’s) Mother: Biopower, Family, and the Production of Race”

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Dangerous Individual(’s) Mother: Biopower, Family, and the Production of Race”

Ellen K. Feder

Hypatia vol. 22, no. 2 (Spring 2007)

Even as feminist analyses have contributed in important ways to discussions of how gender is raced and race is gendered, there has been little in the way of comparative analysis of the specific mechanisms that are at work in the production of each. Feder argues that in Michel Foucault’s analytics of power we find tools to understand the reproduction of whiteness as a complex interaction of distinctive expressions of power associated with these categories of difference.

Feminist and critical race theorists alike have long acknowledged the “intersec­tion” of gender and race difference; it is by now a truism that the ways that we become boys and girls, men and women, cannot be disentangled from the ways in which we become white or black men and women, asian or latino/a boys and girls. Feminist theoretical analyses have contributed in important ways to discussions of how gender is raced and race is gendered. and yet, there has been little in the way of comparative analysis of the specific mechanisms that are at work in the production of each, that is, the ways that they come to make sense or are intelligible as categories, together with the ways these categories come to make sense of us—as raced and gendered human beings. Recognizing important differences between the production of gender and race can help feminist and critical race theorists “think together” these categories without conflating, and thus misunderstanding, the specific mechanisms of each. Read more…

Categories: race, welfare

Betsy Warrior, “Females and Welfare”

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

“Females and Welfare”

Betsy Warrior [1969]

There are 35 million poor people in this country. A THIRD OF THE POOR LIVE IN FAMILIES HEADED BY FEMALES. Many of these families are on welfare, and more should be getting some kind of welfare supplement added to their income. Many of us think that in the richest nation in the world there should be no poor people at all, and that the political and economic reasons for their existence must come to an end.

Why were the welfare mothers picked by radical organizers to disrupt the political system, with the economic breakdown on a local level, and the change in the whole political structure that their demands might bring?

Since five million of the poor are aged, it isn’t likely that these older people would start an active fight against the system that kept them in poverty. Old people are more conservative and lack the energy and determination for a prolonged fight. But other families, a lot of them headed by males — why don’t they fight the system that made them poor? They could fight for an adequate income.

What are the special qualities welfare mothers possess, to make them the ones chosen to fight the establishment? The basic reason is mothers will fight for their children, to supply their needs, and they will struggle for as long as it takes for their children to grow up. They possess both will and sustained determination to demand long and loud that the political structure allow their children enough to live on decently, and in doing so change the political structure. Read more…

Categories: welfare

Sanford F. Schram, “Where the Welfare Queen Resides: The Subtext of Personal Responsibility”

September 11, 2010 Leave a comment

“Where the Welfare Queen Resides: The Subtext of Personal Responsibility”
Sanford F. Schram
Chapter 2, After Welfare: The Culture of Postindustrial Social Policy, 2000. [PDF]

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) requires welfare recipients to take paid employment in order to receive aid and imposes a five-year lifetime limit on eligibility. After this time recipients are expected to be supporting themselves. Welfare reform is predicated on the assumption that staying home and caring for one’s children is not work, and that the primary, and perhaps only, way an individual can demonstrate “personal responsibility” is by taking paid employment. In what follows, I argue that not only is this emphasis on “personal responsibility” prejudiced against mothers who stay at home with their children, but that it operates to allow dominant gender, race, and class biases to infiltrate allegedly neutral welfare policy and ensure the continued subordination of poor families. In other words, the contemporary welfare policy discourse of “personal responsibility” might sound fair in the abstract; however, in late-twentieth-century America, it has become a way to blame the poor for their poverty without ever having to say so. “Personal responsibility” allows the cultural biases of welfare reform to be “hidden in plain sight.”1

Is this controversial? For some, the 1996 reform law obviously intensifies the unfairness of welfare toward recipients by allowing the broader social biases of gender, race, and class relations to structure the system of welfare provision.2 Making low-income single mothers work for poverty wages while having to care for their children on their own amounts to punishing them for being at the bottom of the gender-race-class system, sometimes euphemistically referred to as the socioeconomic order. The existing political economy is rationalized according to a family-wage logic that incorrectly assumes that families tend to have two parents, one of whom, “the breadwinner,” is able to earn enough to support the family while the other, “the homemaker,” provides the necessary nurturance at home.3 The family-wage system is biased in favor of middle- and upper-class, male-headed, white families that tend to be able to conform to this model. While most families, white ones included, have found it difficult to succeed in a political economy structured according to this logic, they find it even more difficult in the changing postindustrial economy. Poor single mothers of color are the least likely to be able to participate effectively in such a biased system. Welfare compensates families who face extreme financial hardship, but it has historically been constrained to provide aid in limited amounts and under strict conditions so as not to conflict with the family-wage logic. The 1996 law has adjusted welfare to reinforce this, thereby reinscribing the gender, race, and class biases of the dominant culture. Read more…

Categories: race, welfare

Silvia Federici, “Putting feminism back on its feet”

September 5, 2010 Leave a comment

“Putting feminism back on its feet”

Silvia Federici

Social Text, No. 9/10, The 60’s without Apology (Spring – Summer, 1984), pp. 338-346

Conducted in New York City, summer 1983, by S. Sayres. Questions have been deleted.

Almost fourteen years have passed since I became involved with the women’s
movement. At first it was with a certain distance. I would go to some
meetings but with reservations, since to a “politico” like I was it seemed
difficult to reconcile feminism with a “class perspective.” Or this at least
was the rationale. More likely I was unwilling to accept my identity as a
woman after having for years pinned all my hopes on my ability to pass for
a man. Two experiences were crucial in my becoming a committed feminist.

First my living with Ruth Geller, who has since become a writer and recorded
in her Seed of a Woman the beginning of the movement, and who
in the typical feminist fashion of the time would continually scorn my enslavement
to men. And then my reading Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s The Power
of Women and the Subversion of the Community (1970), a pamphlet that
was to become one of the most controversial feminist documents. At the
last page I knew that I had found my home, my tribe and my own self, as a
woman and a feminist. From that also stemmed my involvement in the
Wages for Housework campaign that women like Dalla Costa and Selma
James were organizing in Italy and Britain, and my decision to start, in 1972,
Wages for Housework groups also in this country. Read more…

Silvia Federici, “The Restructuring of Social Reproduction in the United States in the 1970s”

September 5, 2010 Leave a comment

“The Restructuring of Social Reproduction in the United States in the 1970s”
Silvia Federici

the commoner N. 11 Spring 2006

The following is the text of a paper that Silvia Federici wrote in 1980 for a
Conference convened by the Centro Studi Americani in Roma on “The Economic
Policies of Female Labor in Italy and the United States.” The Conference was
held in Rome on December 9-11, 1980 and was co-sponsored by the German
Marshall Fund of the United States.

New York, (1980)

“If women wish the position of the wife to have the honor which they attach to
it, they will not talk about the value of their services and about stated incomes,
but they will live with their husbands in the spirit of the vow of the English
marriage service, taking them ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in
sickness and in health, to love, honor, obey.’ This is to be a wife.” – New York
Times, August 10th, 1876: “Wives’ Wages”

“The most valuable of all social capital is that invested in human beings and of
that capital the most precious part is the result of the care and influence of the
mother, so long as she retains her tender and unselfish instincts.” – Alfred
Marshall, Principles of Economics (1890).

While it is generally recognized that the dramatic expansion of the female
labor force is possibly the most important social phenomenon of the 1970s,
uncertainty still prevails among economists as to its origins. Technological
advancement in the home, the reduction of family size and the growth of the service
sector are offered as likely causes of this trend. Yet, it is also argued that these factors
may be an effect of women’s entering the labor force and that looking for a cause
would lead us in a vicious circle, a “what comes first, the chicken or the egg”
problem. As this paper claims, the uncertainty among economists stems from their
failure to recognize that the dramatic increase of the female labor force in the 1970s
reflects women’s refusal to function as unwaged workers in the home, catering to the
reproduction of the national work force. In fact, what goes under the name of
“homemaking” is (to use Gary Becker’s expression) a “productive consumption”
process,1 producing and reproducing “human capital,” or in the words of Alfred
Marshall, the laborer’s “general ability” to work.2 Social planners have often
recognized the importance of this work for the economy. Yet, as Becker points out,
the productive consumption that takes place in the home has had a “bandit like
existence in economic thought.”3 For the fact that this work is not waged, in a
society where work and wages are synonyms, makes it invisible as work, to the point
that the services it provides are not included in the Gross National Product (GNP)
and the providers are absent from the calculations of the national labor force. Read more…

Child Development Group of Mississippi, “A Letter to you from Tom Levin”

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

“A Letter to you from Tom Levin”

Child Development Group of Mississippi
Newsletter #3 [1965]

A letter to all those who have made CDGM possible -

Dear friends,

This summer in Mississippi we have built upon the struggles of passed years. We built CDGM upon the ahes of churches where poor people spoke out for equality. We built CDGM upon the bodies of Negro and white workers for the poor who were killed because they would not stay quietly at home to live in peace with injustice. We built CDGM upon the hunger and humiliation of men and women who were not allowed to work at a decent job before they would not give up being free. We built upon hundreds of years of the suffering and courage of mothers and fathers throughout the state of Mississippi who wanted something human and decent for their children and themselves. If we are proud of what we have done we must remember that we could not have schools run by the poor people, schools with black and white working together, if a place in history had not been won for us by brave men and women before this summer – men and women who said loudly and clearly “All Men Must Be Free.” We have a large debt to these brave people of the “Movement.” We can only pay it by never being satisfied until all men in Mississippi have political, social, and economic freedom.  Read more…

Categories: child care, histories, welfare
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