Explaining US welfare reform: Power, gender, race and the US policy legacy

Ann Shola Orloff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


US welfare reform eliminates social rights and caregiving as bases for making claims; it expands the role of the market; and it marks a shift in patterns of stratification toward gender 'sameness', in that mothers and fathers must be employed. The expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit reinforces these changes, channelling resources to poor parents, but only if they are employed. These changes are explained with reference to changing balances of power and structural conditions, particularly long-term shifts in expectations about mothers' employment, including their racialized dimensions, situating such factors in the context of the policy legacy. Both the market-supporting character of the US policy regime and the articulation of feminist projects regarding women's employment helped create a context in which welfare reform was likely to require employment. The linkage of such requirements and the end of entitlement occurred in the context of Republican electoral victories, with a Democratic President committed to welfare reform. A feminist policy alternative would offer support for combining employment and caregiving, as both activities are critical for social and political participation; citizenship claims must be linked to employment to succeed politically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-118
Number of pages23
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Aid to families with dependent children
  • Earned income tax credit
  • Employment
  • Models of motherhood
  • Temporary assistance to needy families

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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