About the project

A a group of poverty scholars and activists convened to mobilize a response to the 20th anniversary (in 2016) of the Personal Work and Opportunity Reconciliation Act and its devastating effects on poor communities. Seeking to dismantle narratives of welfare reform's success and to contextualize its origins and aftermath, one of the outcomes of their work is #WelfareReformSyllabus.

Ranging from the history of public assistance in the US to the racist and gendered backlash against welfare recipients to reflections on the current neoliberal state and the criminalization of the poor, the syllabus is intended to be accessed and shared widely as a tool for teaching and learning.

The syllabus is listed below, along with a downloadable annotated syllabus.

It can also be accessed via the Anna Julia Cooper Center website.


Week 1. The History of Public Assistance in the U.S.

Week 2. Federal Policy and the Racialized Ideology of Female Dependency

Week 3. The Welfare Rights Movement and Social Activism of the 1960s and 1970s

Week 4. Historicizing the Backlash Against Welfare

Week 5. Framing the Lives of Welfare Recipients on the Eve of “Reform”

Week 6. Media Representation, Racial Politics and the Attack on Welfare

Week 7. The Politics and Paradigms of Welfare Research

Week 8. The Experiences of Welfare Recipients Post-1996

Week 9. Work and Welfare in the Neoliberal Era

Week 10. Welfare Reform and Education

Week 11. Food Insecurity, Housing, and Federal Policy

Week 12. The Criminalization of Poor People

Week 13. Family Life and Gendered Care Work

Week 14. Twenty Years After Welfare Reform

Week 15. New Movements Rising



This initiative was supported by the Narrating Change, Changing Narratives research group of the Seminar for Public Engagement and Collaborative Research.