William Wilson Photo

William Wilson

Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Emeritus
Office Address
79 John F. Kennedy St. Taubman Bldg 406
William Julius Wilson. "Why Sociologists Matter in the Welfare Reform Debate." Contemporary Sociology 46.6 (November 2017): 627-634.


In the 1960s, public support for Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a federal program that provided cash benefits to eligible poor families with children, began to erode (Teles 1996). Critics of welfare associated the growing number of unwed mothers with the rising rates of AFDC, even though the scientific evidence offered scant support for this claim. Fueled by the “welfare queen” stereotype that Ronald Reagan hyped in stump speeches during his 1976 campaign for the presidency, public sentiment against AFDC reached new heights by 1980, when a substantial majority of Americans opposed increased spending for welfare (Kleugel and Smith 1986). Underlying such attitudes was the belief that the increasing reliance on public assistance was due to the moral character of individuals, not inequities in the economic and social structure of society (Melville and Doble 1988). The term “welfare” had become a red flag to many Americans, apparently signaling fraud, waste, and abuse. It also conjured up racial resentments. A 1990 study of attitudes toward poverty among white middle-class Americans revealed that when the race of the welfare recipient was invoked, the image of unmarried black women with babies aroused strong negative responses. Young single black welfare mothers were judged more harshly for their predicament than single white mothers and were seen, therefore, as less worthy of government support (Iyengar 1990).