Race-Ing the bootstrap climb: Black and latino bureaucrats in post-reform welfare offices

Celeste Watkins-Hayes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The substantial incorporation of people of color into government and quasi-government employment raises previously unexplored questions about the significance of race, class, and gender in street-level bureaucracies. Relying on interview data collected from black and Latino supervisors and caseworkers implementing welfare reform, I look at whether and how race and other social group memberships are deployed as tools in the delivery of casework services to black and Latino clients. Contrary to our assumptions about the level of impersonality entrenched in public bureaucracies, I find that most caseworkers and supervisors of color conceptualize and operationalize welfare reform in ways that link their goals and experiences as agency employees, members of racial communities, and implementers of social policy. They identify with the circumstances of their clients, but interpret the politics of welfare through not only racialized but also classed and gendered lenses. Consequently, they support and challenge clients of color in a variety of ways. In order to trace the origins of these strategies, I explore how the combination of institutional politics, environmental phenomenon, and black and Latino bureaucrats' personal histories contribute to their understanding of how they should do their jobs. This article suggests that not only inter-racial but also intra-racial politics inform institutional processes within street-level bureaucracies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-310
Number of pages26
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 11 2009


  • African Americans
  • Intersectionality
  • Latinos
  • Organizations
  • Welfare offices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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