Child Support & Welfare Reform (was RE: working class civilsociety)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sun Mar 26 14:56:28 PST 2000

Max, Kelley, & Carrol:

Max replied:
>Guaranteed public assistance beats being dependent upon individual men,
>whose incomes are not reliable sources (sometimes because men in question
>are irresponsible, but often because of unemployment, underemployment,
>sporadic employment, etc. which are beyond their control). . . .
>Yes but this is exactly what we don't have and are not
>likely to see for some time.

Maybe we should start off with a point of agreement rather than disagreement. All of us agree that it's better for poor women & children to have guaranteed public assistance than being dependent upon individual men. Given this agreement, I'd like you to recall that the idea of enforcing child support (fathers' personal responsibility), along with that of enforcing work (mothers' responsibility), created a *wedge* that divided potential opponents of the Welfare Reform: some wanted to *nix* the Welfare Reform totally, while others thought that they could *tinker* with the whole package to *make the Reform work*. The rhetoric of stepped-up collection of child support from fathers of kids on welfare came in very handy for the Welfare Reformers, for it helped them to put a "feminist" gloss on it: fathers, not just mothers, must take responsibilities for kids. One of the reasons why folks couldn't *nix* the Welfare Reform, I think, is that a lot of them thought they could *fix* it to their liking. The hegemony of the neoliberal rhetoric of personal responsibilities is exactly the reason why guaranteed public assistance is "what we don't have and are not likely to see for some time." It follows that we gotta fight this rhetoric, *refusing* to think that the burden of social reproduction should be *privatized*, be it carried by mothers, fathers, or both equally.

Kelley wrote:
>the stats used are notoriously unreliable (see kathryn edin's work on
>this). most poor people hide their incomes. this includes fathers who
>maintain that they are too poor but who make their living doing other
>thing--hustling, working off the books. sorry to break the news folks, but
>i've lived in this world. people "cheat" the welfare system all the time
>and they should. but noncustodial parents shouldn't cheat their kids--out
>of time, attention or money. and if they can't afford that then they can
>do what my sister's ex did: he did the daycare and did the shopping.

You hold two practically contradictory positions: (a) "people 'cheat' the welfare system all the time and they should"; but (b) "noncustodial parents shouldn't cheat their kids--out of time, attention or money." How does the State collect child support from fathers who are "working off the books," cheating the system? Cheating the system allows them to cheat kids. Also, some women can't afford to welcome fathers' attention due to the history of domestic violence. Remember that one of feminists' objections to the Welfare Reform has been that it makes it difficult for women to leave abusive relationships.

>if noncustodial parents aren't paying, it is
>often because they feel they don't have control over the money or don't see
>their children. now, tell me, if that's the case, then why would anyone
>thing your average joe taxpayer's going to want to spend money on more
>generous welfare bennies administered through the monolith of the state?

Recall the rhetoric of stepped-up child support collection enforcement has been used to suggest that taxpayers should not foot the bill for raising illegitimate children -- that's parents' responsibilities. Some people bought this rhetoric -- hence weak oppositions to the Welfare Reform. Under capitalism, what is personal responsibility is _by definition_ what is not social responsibility. You can't have both. The idea that you can have both at the same time under capitalism probably explains the success of Clinton, Blair, etc. among liberals.


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