Diverse Voices

In 1976, Ronald Reagan hit the campaign trail with a story about a woman with 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards, 4 non-existent deceased husbands, and $150,000 in unearned benefits. The story caught fire and “the welfare queen” was born. But not only was the story heavily embellished, the image the story created came to symbolize all welfare recipients, rather than the few exceptions.

While highly publicized stories such as Reagan’s have received the lion’s share of media attention, there are many more stories shared informally—in barber shops, at work, in homes—that shape our views of welfare today. In addition to the widely shared legends, there are the stories of people who receive public assistance, people with deep, first hand knowledge of the lived reality of welfare.

The Voices of Welfare project examines the intersection of the popular legends about the poor in this country and the personal stories of people receiving public assistance. All of these stories reflect the attitudes, beliefs and perspectives of their tellers and may not always be factually accurate. It is important, however, to recognize that people’s perceptions of welfare can be powerful, whether or not they are true. Accordingly, it may be useful to read the “Top Truths about Welfare” before, during of after reading the stories presented here.


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