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Kazee on Walmart Welfare

One of the most notable changes in contemporary American social policy has been the shift in emphasis from the traditional welfare population to low-income workers and their families. I call this new network of antipoverty policies “Wal-Mart Welfare” for its implications for workers and their employers. What, then, explains variation in the level of support work support at the state level, and do employers play a role in these policy choices? This paper focuses on three policies that make up a state’s overall level of work support yet differ in significant ways: Medicaid, state earned income tax credits, and state minimum wages. In this preliminary analysis, I find that the politics of work support follow a predictable logic but that this not as simple as it first appears. Half of the states follow consistent patterns of high or low work support, while the other half offer limited support through an often unpredictable mix of policies. Regression analysis reveals that overall levels of work support are shaped largely by wealth and partisanship, though when the three policies are disaggregated, income is the only factor that consistently influences work support of all types. If employers play any role at all, it seems to be negative, which reflects divisions within the business community that are notoriously difficult to overcome. When isolated, the low-wage firms that are most likely to benefit from work support policies do not seem to be influencing policy choices. This suggests that historical, institutional, and ideological forces overwhelm the ability of low-wage firms to support government programs (at least on a large scale) even when they are in their material interest, and that policymakers don’t yet believe low-wage employers will mobilize in support of antipoverty programs in the future.

Nicole Kazee, “Wal-Mart Welfare?:State Antipoverty Policy and Low-Income Workers,” unpublished paper. Available here.

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