Large numbers of Americans claim public resources and participate in direct relationships with government through the diversity of welfare programs found in the United States. Most public debates ignore the political importance of these activities, focusing instead on the economic and moral questions raised by welfare policy. By contrast, Unwanted Claims asks how different types of welfare programs, such as social insurance and public assistance, affect the lives of ordinary citizens. The author investigates why citizens turn to welfare programs, how they view the welfare system, and what they learn from experiences in welfare programs about themselves and government. The analysis shows that the welfare system plays a surprisingly important and sometimes contradictory role in modern political life. Depending on their designs, welfare programs can draw citizens into a more inclusive and vibrant democracy or treat them in ways that reinforce their social and political marginality.
Unwanted Claims is a work of political sociology that provides an illuminating account of political life in the U.S. welfare system that should be of interest to scholars, students, policy practitioners, and the general public. Written in a style that minimizes technical jargon, avoids complex statistical presentations, and makes extensive use of clients' own descriptions of their experiences, beliefs, and actions, it offers an accessible and humanizing portrait of welfare participation that challenges conventional wisdom and raises important questions about poverty, welfare, and democracy in America.
Joe Soss is Assistant Professor of Government, The American University.