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Deciding to Discipline: A Multi-Method Study of Race, Choice, and Punishment at the Frontlines of Welfare Reform.

November 2007

Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, and Linda Houser.

Download 'working_paper07-33.pdf'.


Punishment is a core technology for the governance of subordinate populations in the modern state. The growth in significance of sanctions in welfare-to-work is reflective of the punitive approach to poverty management. We test the hypothesis that race influences the role of discrediting social markers in the application of sanctions to clients. We present experimental results that indicate caseworkers are more likely to recommend sanctions for Latina clients who are seen as sexually promiscuous and for black clients who have a prior sanction for failure to meet work requirements. We triangulate these experimental findings with analysis of state administrative data on clients and find additional support that, compared to white clients, blacks are more likely to be sanctioned when they have had a prior sanction. Overall, our results indicate that in the new, more punitive welfare regime, nonwhite clients, African Americans in particular, are more likely to be punished for deviant behavior while such behavior does not increase the chances of punishment for whites.

Race and Ethnicity, Welfare Reform and the Administration of Welfare Programs