Dependency by Law: Poverty, Identity, and Welfare Privatization
Privatization of welfare reflects the political pressure to limit public responsibility for protection of social citizenship. Recent welfare reforms incorporate three classic market-like privatization mechanisms-contracting out services, forcing allocation of a limited pool of benefits, and deregulation. Deregulation entails strategic diversion and disqualification of large numbers of would-be applicants who are left without alternatives to the labor market. In this article I discuss an empirical study of the effects of deregulation of welfare on the self-perceptions of recipients. Interviews with recipients and with low-wage health care workers, former recipients, show that, criticisms of welfare notwithstanding, they have embraced welfare reform’s valorization of market labor, despite the women’s continuing poverty. The interviews suggest that the “consent” of women in low-wage health care work is grounded in both powerlessness and resistance. Care taking, a role devalued by welfare reform, is valued by them and a foundation for identity and an imagined career.