The poor, unmarried women who have been accused of using up the most government resources are actually the ones receiving the least assistance.
The idea of the “welfare queen” came from a story in the Chicago Tribune about a real woman who unabashedly defrauded the welfare system in the 1970s, using government money to buy clothes, jewelry and cars, according to Slate.
Ronald Reagan heard some details of the story, CNN reported and used it as an example of the corruption of the welfare system during his 1976 presidential campaign. It spurred a decades-long reformation of government aid programs in the United States.
The “welfare queen” phenomenon instilled a belief in many Americans that single women are abusing the welfare system. However, a recent report from the Population Association of America has found that while the amount of money given to social programs has increased since 1970, single-parent families are receiving less aid.
“You would think that the government would offer the most support to those who have the lowest incomes and provide less help to those with higher incomes, but that is not the case,” said Robert A. Moffitt, an economist at John Hopkins University, who is the main researcher of the report and president of the Population Association of America.
The money going to social programs increased 74 percent between 1975 and 2007, “but for the 2.5 million single parent families with the absolute lowest levels of earnings, aid dropped 35 percent between 1983 and 2004.”
Single parents have few options for receiving aid. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families requires recipients to work at least 30 hours a week and only receive the benefits for five years, according to an article on The Atlantic.
“Spending on TANF, the only program that non-disabled, non-elderly, poor single mothers are eligible for other than food stamps, was lower in 2007 than it had been in 1970,” the article continues.
The majority of the money goes to programs to support those the government deems more deserving of support: elderly citizens, the disabled and families who are earning more money than single-parent women but are considered to be in need of aid.
One of the trends Moffitt discovered was a shift toward giving more government money to families who earned more. “In 2014, a family of four earning $11,925 a year likely got less aid than a same-sized family earning $47,700,” his report stated.
According to Moffitt, single-parent families, which are generally headed by single mothers and earn less money than two parent families, possibly receive fewer benefits because of the assumption that they are taking advantage of the system.
As CNN reported, “the ghost of the welfare queen is still lurking,” and single mothers who are most in need of support continue to be viewed as manipulators unworthy of help.
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.