About the event

Marking the 20th anniversary of welfare reform, the Mellon Seminar at the Center for Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center will host a working group meeting of scholars to strategize about how research-based perspectives can reframe public conversations and initiatives around poverty and social welfare policy in the United States. Despite an abundance of empirical evidence to the contrary, the 1996 welfare reform legislation continues to be celebrated as a resounding policy success by political leaders and the mainstream news media. Under this law, income assistance for poor mothers and children became harder to access, time limited, and tied to strict work requirements and controls over their sexuality and family life. Research on the effects of welfare reform unequivocally shows that it is a failed anti-poverty policy that has terrorized poor families and communities. The 2014 U.S. poverty rate was 14.5% -- only three percent points less than the rate in 1965, before the launch of the federal “War on Poverty.” 38% of black children and 30% of Latino children currently live in households below the poverty line. Far fewer eligible families today receive public assistance than before the 1996 “reforms,” yet rates of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, homelessness and housing insecurity have since risen sharply. Studies further document that welfare-to-work programs have pushed hundreds of thousands of poor women into unstable, poverty-wage jobs, and that the poorest members of U.S. society are receiving virtually no public assistance.

While it is clear that the social safety net in the United States is in tatters, this issue has been scuttled in the presidential contest, where candidates from both parties continue to cynically cast welfare reform as a success and sideline any serious discussion of poverty and public assistance programs from their public comments and policy proposals. On January 15th, a number of the leading scholars on poverty and welfare from across the country will convene at the CUNY Graduate Center to assess the current state of research on poverty and welfare and to think collectively about how research-based perspectives can be effectively marshaled to change the public conversation and advance economic and social justice for America’s poor people.

List of Participants: Mimi Abramovitz, Randy Albelda, Luisa DePrez, Lisa Dodson, Mary Gatta, Ange-Marie Hancock, Melissa Harris-Perry, Ira Katznelson, Alejandra Marchevsky, Premila Nadasen, Annelise Orleck, Fran Piven, William Quigley, Lorna Rivera, Sanford Schram. Carla Shedd, Jeanne Theoharris, Liz Theoharis, Rhonda Williams.

This meeting convened as part of Narrating Change, Changing Narratives, an interdisciplinary research group that employs public humanities practices and explores narration as a guide for social change. The group is supported by the Mellon Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research. For more information or to join, email ch@gc.cuny.edu.

Cosponsored by The Narrating Change Mellon Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research.

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