Women in the American Welfare Trap

By Catherine Pélissier Kingfisher | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Good and (Mostly) Bad Clients

She's the one that was scamming all along, and the father ((of the child)) was living with her full-time, employed full-time, and had the daughter on his insurance. ( Colleen O'Connell, commenting on her discovery that a client had withheld information on household income)

Now there's a prime example of a working person, twenty-two years old...and we aren't gonna be able to do shit for her because she's not permanently disabled. ( Diane Kane, commenting on a client who could not get medical insurance through her employer but who earned too much to qualify for Medicaid)

The social construction of the client, involving the client, others relevant to the client, and the public employees with whom they must deal is a significant process of social definition often unrelated to objective factors and therefore open to the influence of prejudice, stereotype, and ignorance as a basis for determinations. ( Lipsky 1980:69)

In the last chapter, I explored the various pressures experienced by AP workers in the Kenyon County welfare office. At the most general level, the women shared the constraints of occupational segregation and a household division of labor in which they were assigned primary responsibility for childcare. It was partly as a result of these restrictions that the women found themselves in their current job. Once in the job, they were confronted with large case loads, lack of autonomy and low status, exclusion from official decision-making, and the competing demands of the institution and its clients -- all of which took a physical and psychological toll on their well-being.

The women developed a number of coping strategies in response to these burdens. A key area in relation to which they could develop shortcuts to ease work pressure was the assessment of applicants. I have already pointed out that AP workers are in the business of constructing clients out of otherwise significantly more complicated human beings ( Lipsky 1980; Prottas 1979). Once they have transformed people into "clients," workers can respond by providing (or not providing) particu-

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Women in the American Welfare Trap
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chapter 1 - Producing the World in Everyday Talk 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Welfare Trap I: Recipients 16
  • Chapter 3 - A Tenuous Advocacy 43
  • Chapter 4 - Us 56
  • Chapter 5 - Them 72
  • Chapter 6 - The Welfare Trap II: Workers 82
  • Chapter 7 - Good and (Mostly) Bad Clients 98
  • Chapter 8 - Further Productions: Attitudes and Policy 117
  • Chapter 9 - Trapped as They Are 131
  • Chapter 10 - Conclusions 157
  • Appendix A: Transcripts 163
  • Appendix B 189
  • Bibliography 195
  • Index 203
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