A new study suggests that even in the aftermath of the welfare reform of the 1990s and the resulting disappearance of welfare as a hot-button political issue tied to race, attitudes of white Americans towards welfare are still heavily influenced by negative stereotypes about blacks.

It is well known that racial prejudice and stereotypes among white Americans, while usually less blatant than in the past, still persist. For instance, nearly a third of whites will agree with the statement that most blacks are lazy, and about half say that they believe racial inequality is caused by the failure of blacks to work as hard as whites.

As one consequence of this prejudice, it has long been recognized in political science, and in conventional wisdom, that many white Americans tend to think of blacks when they think of welfare, and that negative attitudes towards blacks (especially stereotypes about work ethics) in turn shape the attitudes of those Americans towards welfare policies.

This racialization of welfare has been tied to the portrayal of the poor, and of welfare recipients in particular, as black citizens by both politicians and the media. As a result, prejudice towards blacks has been shown to be a significant predictor of opposition among whites to welfare spending, and a primary reason why voters are much less likely to support “welfare” than they are other forms of government assistance, including “aid to the poor.”

Since the 1990s, however, welfare reform has caused the portrayal of welfare and welfare recipients by politicians and the media to improve significantly. Politicians are much more likely to describe welfare as a successful system which provides a social safety net while moving citizens into productive jobs. The public has more positive views of welfare, and the issue has largely disappeared from the media or been framed in more positive ways.

This new paper produces evidence that in this changed information environment, in which welfare recipients are portrayed in ways contrary to negative stereotypes about blacks, negative attitudes about blacks continue to affect white opposition to welfare spending as strongly as before.

The disturbing implication drawn by the authors is that stereotypes about welfare recipients and about black work ethics are durable, and as a result, the racialization of the issue of welfare spending has become durable, as well, long after such stereotypes cease to be reinforced in the public arena.

This paper was authored by political scientists Joshua J. Dyck of SUNY-Buffalo and Laura S. Hussey of the University of Maryland and published as “The End of Welfare as we Know It? Durable Attitudes in a Changing Information Environment” (Public Opinion Quarterly, Winter 2008).

34 Responses to “Stereotypes about blacks and welfare persist”

  1. Black Americans and crime | The Living Consequences says:

    […] The idea that black criminals are preying on white victims is a persistent myth in our country, not unlike the mistaken belief that welfare recipients are overwhelmingly black. […]

  2. Welfare, unwed mothers, and absent fathers | The Living Consequences says:

    […] have previously posted about the persistent myth that most welfare recipients in this country are black. It is true, of course, that black families are disproportionately represented on the welfare […]

  3. Jon says:

    People like to say more whites are on welfare but fail to admit that whites make up 75% of the population compared to 12 % for blacks. This fact makes blacks 4 times more likely to be on the dole.

  4. James says:

    Actually, Jon, anyone who spends any time thinking about welfare acknowledges this fact, as I do in another post: "It is true, of course, that black families are disproportionately represented on the welfare rolls."

    The important question is: why? Why are blacks more likely to be "on the dole," as you put it?

    The overwhelming factor, of course, is that blacks in this country are disproportionately poor.

    This disturbing fact is, in turn, primarily a consequence of our nation's history of slavery and brutal racial discrimination. Many people like to say that blacks are more likely to be on public assistance, but fail to admit that this history is the major cause.

  5. Thomas says:


  6. Bella says:

    I am doing a research project on African American racism and tis is so sad and disturbing to see!!1 Many people don't know the hardships they went through to be respected today!!!

  7. Having and Giving in Ghana « the ones who are mad to live says:

    […] women on welfare far outnumber blacks without bearing the same stereotypes. (Read more on this here.) I would hope that one might recognize the racial reasoning behind such […]

  8. Shotei says:

    James how long are you going to blame slavery for everything? Blacks have had everything handed to them for so long now that they do not respect properity or anything other people have worked hard to get. Is there a white getto? How about a white harlem? I'm tired of hearing " oh he came from a bad neighborhood" Bull, why was it bad? Because no one took care of thier own section of it. It doesn't cost much to pick up trash in the front yard or mow the grass. or to be respectful of others.

  9. Verbal Kent says:

    You obviously need to travel and see some of these "ghetto's" that you speak of, because there are white ghetto's.

  10. James says:

    Shotei, thanks for posting, and you raise a vital issue:

    Have our black families had the opportunity by now to recover from the experience of slavery? If so, then it's time to stop focusing on slavery as an issue for the present day. If not, then we need to finally take our history more seriously. Either way, it's time for people to learn the truth so that we can come together around appropriate, constructive solutions to our racial problems.

    In a nutshell, Shotei, black families have never been able to recover from slavery. For a full century following abolition in 1865, blacks were treated to horrendous, blatant discrimination, both official and unofficial, tangible and intangible, violent and non-violent. During that same century, white families in this country benefited from vast federal programs which largely built the white middle class through financing for education, job training, home ownership, and small businesses.

    In the relatively few years since the successes of the civil rights movement, we have made modest progress in closing the racial gap in this country. However, by any objective measure–for instance, income, education, home ownership or financial resources–only part of the gap which existed in 1865 has been closed, and much still remains to be done.

    We can trace racial inequality in this country, year by year, from the end of slavery to today. It isn't all about slavery, since the Jim Crow century played a vital part, too. But this simply isn't a problem which magically appeared after the end of official discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s. It existed long before, and therefore has its roots in older history.

    Blacks have had everything handed to them for so long now that they do not respect properity or anything other people have worked hard to get.

    Shotei, I'll ignore your stereotyped view that people of a particular race don't work hard. And I'll ignore your comment about "properity," since I'm honestly not sure what you meant to say there.

    However, the idea that "blacks have had everything handed to them for so long now" is patent nonsense.

    I'm not even sure what you mean by that comment. Do you think, for instance, that programs like affirmative action have given blacks unearned advantages over whites? Or that welfare has benefited blacks more than whites? These are programs which have mostly benefited non-blacks, and have hardly made a dent in racial inequality, much less over-compensated for the relative disadvantage blacks suffer, on average, at the outset in this country.

    Is there a white getto?

    There certainly are, Shotei. (I hope you're aware that the word "ghetto" isn't specific to black neighborhoods, and in fact originally referred to a particular white community.)

    Now, if you're saying that there are problems distinctive to some black neighborhoods in this country, you're right. Why is that? Generations of poverty and racial discrimination help to account for much of that; anyone can see that the end of official discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s didn't magically transform those neighborhoods into one with generations of first-class public investment.

    why was it bad? Because no one took care of thier own section of it.

    That's not true, Shotei. This is about a lack of public investment in "minority" neighborhoods, going back many generations. This is about the consequences of poverty, which can be seen in any poor urban neighborhood, regardless of race.

    It doesn’t cost much to pick up trash in the front yard or mow the grass ….

    Do you really think that the problems of race, the ones being blamed on our long history of slavery and discrimination, can be illustrated by homes with grass that isn't mowed often enough?

  11. Dave says:

    I'ld like to see more honesty. I think the gov is making slaves out of the poor populations. The poor are purchased with entitlements along with there votes. They are taught nothing they are kept down by government. The $$$ that goes to the poor does not give a prophit & does not benefit society. The middle class is the primary work-force the government steals form the middle class & upper class and gives it to the poor. & the rich. Unfortunately a disproportionate ### of blacks end up on the gov payroll. Little do they know they are continuing the cycle established some 4 centuries ago that made this country great & shameful all at once —slavery… We need to call affirmitive action what it is reparations —be honest.

    Also be honest there is a disproportionate amount of black crime.

    There are a lot of lazy whites and blacks out there should they be rewarded for "Poor Performance" as we reward executives at AIG & Lehmann brothers.

    Sometimes people need help through a rough-spot but if you are taking more from this country than you have contributed you need to be set-free to fend for yourself or die trying. Have some pride. Whether it's black or white who cares…

  12. Trashed and Cast Aside: The Reality of Welfare Stereotypes | Some Things You Might Want to Know: says:

    […] Political views of welfare recipients can also be seen in the stipulations and implementation of various welfare programs. Benefit Cap (also referred to as Family Cap or Child Exclusion Act) and Compulsory Birth Control Plans regulate the fertility rate by threatening to discontinue the recipients welfare if she has an additional child while receiving public assistance (Thomas, Kelly). Many state legislatures have considered bills designed to force poor women to use contraceptives (Norplant) as a condition of welfare receipt (Thomas). […]

  13. jaso says:

    These are facts, not myths or stereotypes.

  14. Darrius says:

    Shotei I completely agree with you. I'm black and I'm sick of us blaming slavery for everything. Black people are still poor because the majority of them don't want to work for anything. They either want to get on welfare, steal, sell drugs, or all of the above. And it's getting worse and worse. Blacks have every opportunity now to be successful but they don't take it. They drop out of high school instead of going to college and getting a degree. Then they join gangs, destroy neighborhoods, and walk around with their pants going down to their knees. I was raised by a single mother on the south side. I wanted to be successful, so I went to school everyday, I went to college, and thanks to this government black people are always saying is against them, I got the money to pay for college, which all black students can do. There is no reason for so many black people to still be poor and uneducated. It isn't anyone's fault but their own. Whites aren't the ones telling black teenagers don't go to school, join a gang, and act ignorant. Blacks in the 50s and 60s sacrificed so much to make this country a better place for us during the civil rights movement. They showed dedication, intelligence, and courage. This is something you will rarely see from blacks these days. I shutter to think what the country would be like today if blacks were how they are now during the civil rights movement. Now they just want everything to be handed to them. They don't seem to believe in working towards a goal.

  15. Darryl (US Veteran) says:

    Somewhere along your journey in life you have failed to assess one's belief (I.e a poor person) in expected outcomes and the cause and effect that occurs as a result of the socio-economic environment and the structure comprising that environment. If you have traveled abroad you'd have a better understanding and would realize that the issues faced by blacks in America are common to other groups in other nations that are marginalized. Research project for you….google blacks in Argentina, the results are chilling!!

  16. cute says:

    Yes but whites don't go through what blacks go through so none of them should be on welfare. Black schools are 3 grade levels below white schools, white don't get discriminated against as often. How many role models to whites have in comparison to blacks. How are black portrayed in the media in comparison to whites. The fact is no white man should be on welfare ever given the upper hand they ve had. Personally I hate welfare people should work for what they get. People on welfare need to go clean the streets, work for the government do something for christ sake, whether black or white. SSI is a part of the welfare system and whites are 3 times more like to get that than blacks. So? All factors added in whites are no better than blacks they damn lazy too.

  17. cute says:

    Darrius that's nice but think. What is in the black neighborhoods for black kids to see Gun shops and liquor stores? What are surrounding black kids? What do they see everyday? They are all in one little area, thinking and doing like each other. While whites are doing the same thing thinking and doing like each other. Why are the schools in those black neighborhoods so bad? Why is the education system so low? If you can't see that everything is set up then you can't blame them for not seeing it. Think deeper into how things work. Study, read articles look at the unfairness. Only about 10% of the youths in those areas join gangs which means 90% don't. And please don't say Black this and that the people you know are on that system so your figures may be wrong. The people I know personally are not on the system. I am definitely not. You are stereotyping us right now the same thing that you don't like for whites to do. Do you ever go to the trailer park to see how they live. I get what you are saying but channel your energy into starting programs in these neighborhoods. Don't judge. That type of stereotype is why blacks who make it don't go back and help other blacks who don't. This is why we don't favor each other or help each other because we are too quick to judge each other. You think white people make it without help from somewhere or someone. How will we make it if we dont help one another? Whites hire whites, do blacks hire blacks? Not really cause they see them as a threat or are quick to judge them just like you re doing now. For things to change we gotta help one another, when will that start.

  18. Jared says:

    I agree with the author. The funny thing is my people(white people) complain about this and that so much its pathetic. I see a lot of blacks pulling themselves up by their boot straps while we blame every other race for the job we didn't get. We are becoming pathetic. Stop whining about other races when we might have the largest portion of people on social programs behind latinos in this country.

  19. Hoboe says:

    This response is to the statement that the African Americans have been given everything (no one has given me anything) First, this is a lie that has been perpetuated for several decades and, for convenience, given that African Americans have had to fight for whatever they got in contrast to other minority groups who have benefitted from their gains. Remember the civil rights movement? In addition, remember how much they and American Indians have been and continue to be robbed of? I suppose you feel that American Indians and Latinos have been given everything as well. I'd like your response to this question. Second, white local and state governments built the cages that you call ghettos. I would not expect anyone to build substandard housing for their own people. Don't expect to ever see white ghettos in American since they are built for African Americans. Furthermore, when were projects built for white people?

  20. jas says:

    This all upsets me how people continue to look at black people and other minority groups. FYI black people were NEVER handed anything and it is still like this til this day so that statement was completly wrong. It is 2011 and people need to get over theirselves i really feel things are getting worse and worse and it shouldnt be that way we all need to get along and stop stereotyping one another.

  21. Frank says:

    I keep reading nonsense, on this matter. "we still need to close the gap between..", "blacks live around a "set up for failure" environment etc etc. Sure there is racism today, and goes both ways, but i haven't seen so many people complaining like in the AA community! And is always about their community suffering "more" than others: unemployment, discrimination,etc. When you guys are going to stop? if AA are unemployed is their own fault! If AA are performing poorly in schools is their own fault! Is not the white devil that put your [censored] in ghettoes or transforms school in battle turfs! It is YOU and only YOU responsible for your own failures! Black power, black panther, BET, we need more blacks here and there..all this crap! I am tired to hear it: just [censored] work and learn some when you go to school my friends!! Then you complain about stereotypes…go figure…

  22. Darryl (US Veteran) says:

    White Devil still thinking with a polluted and foul mind!

  23. James says:

    Sure there is racism today, and goes both ways, but i haven’t seen so many people complaining like in the AA community!

    That's interesting, Frank, because I run into a lot of people who complain bitterly about what they believe is racism directed against white people.

    And is always about their community suffering “more” than others: unemployment, discrimination,etc.

    Well, that's simply true, Frank. Have you seen the statistics on the difference between white and black unemployment in the U.S. right now? The gap is horrifying. No one is saying that black Americans suffer more than every other demographic group on every measure imaginable, but most socioeconomic statistics show black Americans at a distinct disadvantage.

    Is not the white devil that put your [censored] in ghettoes … !

    Actually, Frank, it is precisely white people who established black ghettos in the U.S. Have you not heard of red-lining, and similar practices, which forced black Americans into black residential enclaves against their will? Are you not familiar with the Jim Crow century, in which black citizens were prohibited from most educational and career advancement, while black neighborhoods were systematically starved of resources and infrastructure?

    It is YOU and only YOU responsible for your own failures!

    This has never been true, Frank. The success of individuals and families has always depended on a blend of individual work and community resources. White families in this country benefited from centuries of slavery, followed by another century of blatant discrimination and of affirmative action programs for white Americans. The impact of this history could not have been erased in just one or two generations.

  24. Frank says:

    James..James: you live in the past my friend. You are telling me that when an African American is born in the US the White people take him and put into a ghetto? this is 2011 man, everyone has to have equal opportunity, everyone can go to school and better him/herself. Every family, neighborhood has the obligation to "watch" over their kids. Ghettos today, white or black, have no reason to exist if not for the people that want to live that way!! That's very simple. If crackheads, pushers and gangs are roaming the streets is because you don't keep your damn teenager sons and daughters away from trouble! Family, lack of moral values. That what it is today! If i teach my daughter how t behave and moral values and i keep watch on her..she'll pop kids up like a popcorn machine! Your boys? Well you know the answer. Jim Crow era is ended..do you realize that? I have seen the stats and who do you think can take the blame? The white evils? I am sorry..but I say NO! YOU and YOU only are responsible for you failures! And i refuse to accept your statement about "white families benefited from slavery". Do you think that all whites were slave owners? Are you familiar with the indentured slaves, whites? Your world is made of millions of whites owning slaves? Are you serious? Discrimination was ended by whites and civil rights movements alike! Quit whining! And what about "affirmative action"? Is not "discriminatory" when applies to minority?..How long you think is going to take to erase the impact of that history and why ALL whites today have to pay for what FEW did it decades ago? What about all the ones that immigrated in the US since slavery was abolished? You are just biased. Until we keep bringing particular needs up, tied up to ethnic group, we are not going to MOVE ON!

  25. Frank says:

    ..correction: "if I DON'T teach etc etc"..that was obvious. But continuing on the subject. All these years that we have experimented "affirmative action" or "quotas" to help oppressed minorities, we haven't done anything else but trashing the Constitution. A society learn from its mistakes and moves on, doesn't look at the past. You James…you keep looking at it. Turn your head and look ahead of you! What a legislation like AA has done to minorities is a lot worse than slavery. It is "leveling" the people with capacity and skill of any race to the less capable!" the weak bring down the strong to his/her level which reduces men in preferring equality in servitude rather the inequality n freedom". De Toqueville..my friend. Read it. People that think that they are "owed" something because of whatever reason will expect to benefit from that FOR EVER! Is that what you want for America folks? I do not!!

  26. Dustin says:

    Every time I go to the grocery store, I see black people with 300 dollar purses and 150 dollar shoes, paying for their groceries with money that was taken from my paycheck. If you need help, get help and get back on your feet. It is absolute irony because the millions of people on welfare are slaves to the government. Take away their free money and this country would be a war zone. They would vote democrat, even if the candidate admitted he or she was the devil himself, purely for the continued welfare. People like that can go to hell. Freaking bottom feeders..

  27. Darryl (US Veteran) says:

    I'd say you need to get on the band wagon and stop complaining……what utter nonsense!!

  28. Dustin says:

    Also… This PC nonsense is ridiculous. Stereotypes? Racism? I've driven around this entire country and EVERY time I've been in a bad, run down, hood, with dope dealers everywhere, it was filled with blacks. Black addicts get their welfare check and cash it for crack.. It's not suburban white kids buying dime bags of weed that paid for the 10 thousand dollar set of rims.

  29. Darryl (US Veteran) says:

    You are sick…..you sure you're not on crack!?

  30. Joseph marcucilli says:

    I worked for 8 years as a teacher in what could be described as a ghetto neighborhood.I had science books so far out of date that it indicated that we may soon send a space vehicle to the moon.This was in 1985! I had to buy a shirt for one of my students who was sleeping in a chicken coop.Most of my students came to school for a meal provided by our government because it was the only meal they would have that day. I find it interesting that we never discuss corporate welfare, nor the idea of inheritance that has nothing to do with a work ethic, nor the violence that is pervasive in any poor neighborhood.The assumption that poor people don't work is so far removed from reality I don't wish to waste my time on this issue.We need to address poverty in this country if we want to end welfare.We need to improve our inner city schools if we want to end poverty, we need to walk around in the shoes of others before we express views so removed from reality that it does nothing but inspire hatred towards our fellow man.

  31. Darryl (US Veteran) says:

    The problem remains that social integration is still feared…or not wanted. To address poverty, one must deal with the 800lb gorilla in the room–Race relations. We have abandoned our cities to escape minorities depleting tax bases and relocating our economies to suburbia with no mass transit for the poor to access good jobs. Race and poverty are Siamese twins joined at the heart!!

  32. Frank says:

    I understand the teacher concern, but I have a question also for him. Do you think people in this Country are "forced" to be poor? Millions of immigrants came here in poverty and through hard labour, with school or not, they made it out of "poverty" and lived a fairly good life. The key word here is "hard work", you can split the last two: there were jobs available and you had to work hard to get the things you wanted in life. Joseph is talking about "being in touch with reality", well what is more "real" of people that do not want to help themselves but want "someone else" to take care of them? We are going toward a system that favours the lack of initiative and relinquishing control of our lives to an exterior entity (the State/Government). Some people are passively accepting this state of things, for whatever reasons, and others that simply refuse it. In what I call "America" you have to want to be "poor" because possibilities are out there for anybody (Asians they come here poor and they do not end up poor..! In the "new America", the Obamerica "hope for change", you will end up poor even if you DO NOT want to and are trying not to be!! Watch it happen as liberals control more and more this Nation due to their catering to the masses of unfortunates that are let in this Country. This is reality pal…I don't now which reality you are talking about. At the people that are in places like the ghettos are ultimately responsible for their own misfortune. Lack of community "sense" and the "belonging" to a group feeling: individualism, that is what ruined ghettos. Third world in the Us..is coming. That's what we have imported in the past and what we are importing now. Nation will split..one day. The part that will be the one functioning..will have a real wall..with armed people. Diversity is what kills Nations and civilizations (Rome teaches…).

  33. Darryl (US Veteran) says:

    Utter nonsense!! Fool…..gnats have NO BRAINS……

  34. NSG2020 says:

    "Millions of immigrants came here in poverty and through hard labour, with school or not, they made it out of "poverty" and lived a fairly good life."

    Why does this idea of impoverished immigrants always leveled as the "evidence" used to "explain" how blacks are lazy in relation? The great majority of the immigrants who have migrated here in the last 20 years are relocating for jobs or here on student visas and the great majority are a part of the upper-middle or upper classes of their respective countries. Many international students and workers (not including Mexicans or people in the Caribbean who can uproot their lives and move to the US with greater relative ease (in terms of money) than say coming from Khazastan or Nigeria, for example – which would require more money and be less practical than moving to a neighboring country that is more financially stable and with similar linguistic and cultural similarities – Russia or Ghana in the case of the two countries I listed above).

    Also, some people do come here and do not achieve the American dream. Unemployment/health problems/etc. happens to all.

    Comparing a group of people who came to a country unwillingly with absolutely no money and no means to acquire funds (by law) to persons willingly immigrating is downright absurd.

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