Entanglements of Race, Class, & Policy Reform

Finalist: C. Wright Mills Book Award,
Society for the Study of Social Problems
Honorable Mention: Max Weber Book Award, American Sociological Association

This is an ethnographic analysis of the implementation of welfare reform on the front lines of service delivery. It investigates how the professional, racial, class, and community identities of welfare caseworkers and supervisors shape the implementation of policy and other organizational dynamics. Study findings indicate that while welfare reform changed the job descriptions of front-line staff members (from eligibility-compliance claims processors to welfare-to-work caseworkers), these agencies were largely unable to undertake the steps necessary to change employees’ professional identities.

As a result, welfare reform did not unfold as many policy makers had imagined it, and a piecemeal system of service-delivery is now underway. While we have witnessed caseload reductions and increased work among low-income mothers, inequalities abound in how clients receive the services most likely to influence their abilities to sustain economic self-sufficiency.

This incomplete revolution has also solidified many of the long-standing tensions around race, class, and community belonging in these offices in ways that have direct and indirect effects on service-delivery and other organizational dynamics.

The book, The New Welfare Bureaucrats: Entanglements of Race, Class, and Policy Reform, was released in 2009 by the University of Chicago Press. In order to complete this project, Dr. Watkins-Hayes received support from The National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0512018), The Brookings Institution, and the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.