Volume 1, Issue 2, Summer 1994
John D. Jones
Multiculturalism and Welfare Reform
Multiculturalism has not yet systematically addressed, much less challenged, dominant approaches to poverty and welfare reform. This lacuna must be rectified since the widespread poverty experienced by people of color poses a substantive threat to the development of a truly inclusive and multicultural society. Present approaches to poverty, defined in the context of welfare reform, are defective for three reasons: First, welfare reform basically aims to reduce welfare “dependency” by moving so-called able-bodied welfare recipients off welfare and into the labor market. This project seems destined to fail given a chronic scarcity of jobs, and especially decent paying jobs. Second, welfare reform does not provide an adequate framework for the general alleviation of poverty since many poor receive little or no welfare assistance. Third, welfare assistance is based on an invidious, stigmatizing distinction between the able-bodied poor (viewed as unworthy and disreputable) and the disabled poor. Thus, given disproportionate rates of poverty among people of color as well as a general (but mistaken) impression that US poverty is principally a “minority” problem, present policies and attitudes toward the poor insure that many people of color will bear the brunt of economic and symbolic marginalization despite gains which accrue to some people of color as the result of greater racial and cultural inclusiveness.