From Library Journal
Gilens (political science, Yale Univ.) has written a provocative analysis of American attitudes toward welfare. Actually, he might have better titled his study Why Americans Hate Certain Kinds of Welfare, because he convincingly shows that most Americans actually support state assistance to the deserving poor, i.e., those who are not lazy and who actively seek employment. On the other hand, Americans overwhelmingly oppose welfare to those perceived as shiftless. This category has come to be associated with African Americans, partly through the medias long-term tendency to connect welfare with blacks. To prove this point, the book analyzes more than four decades of news reports on poverty. In the end, the author shows how racial stereotypes, not white self-interest or anti-statism, lie at the root of opposition to welfare programs. A well-written and thoughtful study on a timely subject.Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Why do Americans who want to "help the poor" have such negative attitudes toward "welfare" ? Yale University political science professor Gilens suggests the media are a primary culprit. Individualism and economic self-interest don't adequately explain white Americans' opposition to welfare. Using detailed analysis of surveys and other sources, Gilens traces this antipathy to portrayals in the media that "racialize" welfare and activate the ancient racial stereotype of African Americans as "lazy." The old notion of "the undeserving poor" is central here; many of those who want "an end to welfare as we know it" think government should be spending more, not less, to help poor people trying to support themselves. Gilens' study of how TV and newsmagazines "visualize" poverty may be controversial; he describes how racial stereotypes lead even liberal photo editors and producers to misrepresent the composition of America's poor people. Recognizing the complexity of these public attitudes, Gilens argues that well-conceived means-tested programs can achieve and maintain strong public support. Mary Carroll