State Welfare Reform — Race, Ethnicity… and Gender?

The article, “State Welfare Reform — Race, Ethnicity… and Gender?” by Beth Reingold and Adrienne R. Smith, appears in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Political Science. Here, Professors Reingold and Smith summarize its contents:

Under the guidelines of the U.S. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (also known as the “Welfare Reform” Act), every state in the country undertook unprecedented efforts to “end welfare as we know it.” Previous research shows that African American and Latino state legislators were able to mitigate or ease some of the more stringent restrictions, demanding requirements, and harsher penalties associated with this wave of get-tough welfare reform.

In this study, we ask whether the presence and power of women in state legislatures had similar effects. What we find is that it depends on which women (and which African Americans and Latinos) you’re talking about.

Though few in number, legislative women of color had the strongest and most consistent countervailing effects on state welfare policy in the mid-1990s, doing more to alleviate the get-tough provisions of welfare reform than their white female, black male, or Latino colleagues. Thus, our research calls into question many overly broad assumptions about women and racial minorities in politics; and it demonstrates that a few, very committed and well-placed critical actors really can make a difference on major policy issues of the day.

About the Authors: Beth Reingold is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Women’s Studies at Emory University and Adrienne R. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.