“It's Not What You Choose,
but Where They Send You”
Inside Personal Responsibility
Even when they are overtly coercive, [welfare and other social pro-
grams] work by getting the recipient to see her own interests in
those control strategies…. She is, then, both the subject of and
subject to welfare discourses, not merely their object.
—Barbara Cruikshank, The Will to Empower
By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will
give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and
make our society more prosperous and just and equal…. Self-gov-
ernment relies, in the end, on the governing of the self.
—President George W. Bush, Inaugural Speech 2005
Maria Sanchez has heard on television that the government is helping welfare mothers to find a job. But as she explains, “It's a lie. If it's going to be like GAIN, then I don't believe in that.” Maria voluntarily enrolled in GAIN in 1997 (before the program became mandatory in L.A. County) after hearing from her caseworker that the program would help her to find a good paying job and would pay for her childcare while she was working. Maria is no stranger to hard work. At age fifteen she got her first job as a sewing machine operator in a men's apparel factory in Guadalajara. Later, Maria and her sisters purchased a knitting machine and produced sweaters at home for a local manufacturer who paid them by the piece. After migrating to Chicago to live with an older brother in 1986, Maria spent five years working for the minimum wage in the inventory department of an automobile plant. Most recently, she had held a string of low-wage jobs, from sewing to merchandise inspection, in downtown