Social Inequality

1) Welfare reform, with the shift from AFDC to TANF, marked many changes in government assistance available for poor families. Describe the main differences between AFDC, the “old” welfare program, and TANF, the “new” welfare program. Then, use examples from American Dream to discuss whether you think welfare reform provided the resources women like Angie, Jewell and Opal need to move their families out of poverty. What were some of the barriers to mobility and/or work the women experienced? Did TANF provide resources to overcome them? Be sure to give examples and explain why.

It is very ironic that despite being the richest country in the world, the United States is still home to millions of people wallowing in abject poverty. The poverty experience however varies in many ways including family type as well as age. Families headed by females without husbands are known to present the highest rate of poverty. Additionally, among the racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics and blacks suffer particularly high rates of poverty, compared to non-Hispanic whites.

AFDC

As a result of the size, cost, as well as the consequences of poverty in the society, the government and the public have significant roles in preventing the escalation of the already dire situation, in order to help out more people to become self-reliant. In this regard, the government has always come up with welfare programs like the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program which was later named Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1950.

In the book American Dream, DeParle Jason is of the view that the AFDC was basically designed to provide cash assistance to single parents with children, more so, the sole parents with children. A poor family was mainly eligible for AFDC as a result of the absence of a father. Over the years, the out-of-wedlock births became the primary reason for single motherhood. With time, the huge increase in the number of unwed mothers as well as their children became a very significant and unexpected change among the recipients of AFDC.

TANF

In August 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which was instrumental in altering the welfare policy as well as the structure of income support for poor families in the US. Unlike AFDC, TANF imposes stringent work requirements as well as time limits for one to receive cash assistance.

While AFDC was an entitlement program that guaranteed benefits to all recipients whose income as well as resources fell below state-determined eligibility levels, DeParle asserts that TANF however requires states to determine eligibility requirements as well as benefit levels. Additionally, DeParle asserts that while AFDC was an entitlement program, TANF is not. This is due to the fact that there is categorically no requirement that states aid, or apply homogeneous rules to all families to determine those who are financially needy.

The Benefits of Welfare Reform

Many families suffering under the yoke of poverty can access a number of resources offered by TANF.  In this regard, women like Angie, Jewell and Opal need to move their families out of poverty, with the help of resources from TANF. Being low income families, these women can use these resources to overcome barriers to work, ensure adequate housing, access education and training, and meet expenses like the back-to-school costs. They can also repair or even buy cars that can get them to work. 

For instance, they can use the rewards as well as bonuses from TANF once they get jobs, or maintain employment. Additionally, should they enroll for training and get credentialing benchmarks, they will be in a position of accessing these bonuses, thus lift themselves out of poverty. Again, through TANF, these women can get payments to avoid utility shut-offs as well as evictions for rent arrearages.

Angie, Jewell and Opal can also receive payments or services for families who are at risk of losing their young ones as a result of neglect or abuse. This is inclusive of in-home support that is provided for families as well as out-of-home support like temporary housing, as well as other expenses. With these benefits, the three women can work their way out of the quagmire.

2) Explain how California’s “three strikes” law, which requires a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life in prison if a person is found guilty of a third felony offense, fits into Western’s account for why incarceration rates have increased so much since the 1970s. What are the other factors involved? Discuss three social consequences of “mass incarceration”, in California, and/or in the nation at large.

The ‘three strikes laws” were thought to be effective in curbing recidivism, or bringing the so called “career criminals” to a stop. According to this law, whenever offenders were convicted for the third time, they would be sentenced for 25 years to life. This was irrespective of whether the third offence was just a simple one like a nonviolent crime involving shoplifting.

In his book Punishment and Inequality in America, Bruce Western asserts that the law was basically crafted in order to curb the rising rate of crime by ensuring that serious offenders were sentenced to longer periods of time. The statutes however severely limited the degree of latitude with which judges were permitted to exercise while issuing sentences.

As a matter of fact, the most contentious of this policy was adopted by the state of California in 1994. According to the state, proposition 184 was introduced, which came to be known as the “three strikes” rule. It was introduced with the intention of targeting habitual offenders. It was indicated that nearly half of the states as well as the Federal government enacted their own versions of the statute. However, Western believes that the legitimacy of the three-strike laws has over the years remained an open question.

This is due to the fact that though rate of crime decreased considerably in California, there has been a disagreement over the degree to which the three strikes laws are responsible for the decline in the rate of serious crime. Furthermore, the constitutionalities of the “three-strikes” laws were challenged in the Supreme Court in 2003. As a matter of principle as well as of practicality, the statutes have remained to be an imperative concern, especially due to the rise in incarceration rates with the tightening of state budgets each year.

Other Factors that Have Led to the Increase of Incarceration Rates in the US

According to Western, the rate of crime in any nation is mostly related to the number of incarcerations. Generally, this increase is mainly due to the high rate of crime in the United States. Another reason arises from the fact that the United States engages in very little spending on social welfare programs. In other countries like Germany and Finland where the governments spend generously on social welfare programs, they end up having low incarceration rates.

Another factor that could be leading to the rise in incarceration rate is the issue of race. In most cases, African Americans are more likely to be imprisoned in comparison to other ethnic groups. It also goes without doubt that the increase in crime is also attributed to increase in unemployment. Over the years, there has been a rise in the rate of unemployment. Additionally, the use of illegal drugs has led to the increase in the rate of incarceration.

The Social Consequences of “Mass Incarceration”

In many ways, mass incarceration has become an engine of racial inequality. As a result, it has led to some sort of disquiet among the African-American community since research indicates that mass incarceration promotes pervasive cynicism about an unfair execution of the law. This is because research indicates that 60% of black males who do not complete high school go to prison in their lifetime.

Additionally, it is believed that mass incarceration is actually a core dynamic that protracts socio-economic inequality between whites and blacks in the United States. This is mainly because it reduces the prospects of marriage of marginally-educated African-American men, while at the same time reducing their employability.

Western is also of the view that that mass incarceration is one of the many dynamics that alienates many African-American males from their neighborhoods. This leads to a big percentage of female-headed, single-parent families. In this regard, women connected to men who are imprisoned depend on friends as well as family to fill the hole left by the incarcerated husband, these lead to a straining of family ties. 

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