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The Truth about Welfare and African-American Women by Carl L. Dehaney, Jr.

Back in early January, President Bush articulated a proposal, which he eventually presented to Congress on February 4, to reform the Welfare System. Although the system had been reformed and revamped by former President Clinton in 1996, and was working better than it had been previously, President Bush felt that the current reformed system still needed a few minor changes.

One thing that he revised, and I must agree with him, was the loosening up of strict work rules adopted in 1996 to allow for some limited education and training.

In addition, officials are contemplating new money for experiments aimed at helping former recipients, most of who are still in poverty, get higher-paying jobs. According to an esteemed panel of Psychologists from the American Psychological Association, the Welfare system needed no reform, but wealth and financial distribution is what needs reform. For example, in 1993, the top 20 percent of U.S. households received 48.9 percent of the total income, but those households in the bottom 20 percent shared only 3.6 percent. According to the National Women's Law Center, in 1995 almost 70 percent of U.S. workingwomen earned less than $20,000 yearly, and nearly 40 percent earned less than $10,000. More than 10 million women are the sole support for their children and families.

In this particular economic environment, children and single mothers, especially those of color, have suffered the most. So, where do African-American women fit in to this picture?

They try to fit into a world in which many of them have been systematically boxed out.

They are simultaneously bearing the burden of stereotypes given to them by those who are misinformed of the facts about welfare.

One of the biggest misconceptions concerning African-American women and welfare is that African-American women comprise the largest group of welfare recipients - absolutely untrue.

According to the U.S. Department of Census, children, not African-American women, are the largest group of people receiving public assistance. Less than 5 million of the 14 million public assistance recipients are adults, and 90 percent of those adults are women.

The majority of welfare recipients are actually White, making up 38 percent of the recipients, followed by 37 percent African Americans, and 25 percent other minority groups such as Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. However, African Americans are disproportionately represented on public assistance because we are only 12 percent of the population.

Another misconception concerning African-American women and the welfare system is that the system causes a state of complacency or no incentive to work because recipients become dependent upon welfare - absolutely untrue.

Acording to a report given by the Staff of House Committee on ways and means, 56 percent of welfare support ended within 12 months, 70 percent within 24 months, and almost 85 percent within 4 years. Persons who were likely to need assistance longer than the average time had less than 12 years of education, no recent work experience, were never married, had a child below age 3 or had three or more children, were Latina or African American, and were under age 24. These risk factors show the importance of systematic barriers, such as inadequate childcare, racism, and poor quality of education, or a lack thereof.

I think for the first time since President Bush has been in office, I agree with a part of one of his proposals, in terms of providing education and training for women in need of assistance. However, I have mixed feelings concerning the part of his proposal to spend $100 million on experimental programs aimed at getting single welfare mothers to marry. I believe that his intentions were good in terms of articulating the need for family structure, but since one of the most dangerous obstacles for women on welfare to hurdle is that of an abusive intimate partner, encouraging marriage in some cases may actually cause more harm than good.

For example, a recent study of a small sample of welfare recipients in Massachusetts found that 65 percent were victims of violence by a current or former boyfriend or husband, and one-fifth had been victimized in the past 12 months. Similar results were found in a survey of welfare recipients in Washington State.

There, 55 percent of the recipients reported being physically or sexually abused by a spouse or boyfriend. Another study of 436 homeless and low-income housed mothers found that 63 percent reported assaults by intimate male partners. A 1997 study on intimate violence and Black women's health found that rates of severe partner violence are higher for low-income Black women than for higher income Black women. Black women who have unemployed husbands experience particularly high rates of severe violence, all of which are substantially higher than that suffered by women in the general population, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

There must be psychological evaluation done with many of these women to coincide with educational programs and job training. If a woman is leaving a home where she is being beaten each morning, the psychological scars will ultimately steer her down a road of unsuccessfulness. Her ability to concentrate on a job or information will be minimized due to the distractions at home. She will be fired for lack of concentration, and forced to repeatedly rely upon the welfare system that never actually tunneled to the core of her needs. For years, many have labeled the stereotypes concerning welfare and African-American women as fact, when in all actuality; much of it was merely fiction.

Do I love the idea of welfare?

Of course not, however, it is good to see welfare reform taking place, and funding allocated to help single-mothers attain better paying jobs. There are women who abuse the system, spending money allotted for their children, upon themselves. However, I honestly believe that all woman recipients, African-American or otherwise, inevitably want to live in a state of financial independence. The stereotypical stories of how all low-income African-American women are on welfare, comes from years of underlying racist myth. Nevertheless, if you look at all of the facts, they will tell an entirely different story about welfare and African-American women.

Carl L. DeHaney, Jr. is a Freelance Writer and Columnist for a weekly publication called The Community Journal on Long Island, NY. Please e-mail Carl L. Dehaney, Jr.with your comments at

Carl L. Dehaney, Jr.

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

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