The Resurrection of the Welfare Queen

by Mary Annaïse Heglar

The Republican presidential primary is haunted. Mitt Romney is afraid of an entitlement society, a social welfare state. Rick Santorum is alarmed by the low rates of marriage and high rates of children born out of wedlock in the African-American community.

Newt Gingrich has decried the lack of work ethic in low-income, particularly black, neighborhoods. He has recently come under fire for his attempts in South Carolina to brand President Obama as the “food stamp president,” claiming that Obama has put more people on food stamps than any other president (which is actually false).

Since food stamps remain one of the few federally administered welfare benefits, calling Obama the “food stamp president” is tantamount to calling him the “welfare president.” So if President Obama is the “food stamp president,” is Michelle Obama the “food stamp first lady”? Or “welfare first lady”? Or “Welfare Queen”?


If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The monster beneath this rhetoric is the Welfare Queen, the fabled boogeywoman of the 1976 Reagan presidential campaign.

“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veterans’ benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands,” Reagan told enraptured crowds at stump speeches. “Her tax-free income alone is over $150,000.”

As the narrative developed, she was, of course, black. She was promiscuous and she was lazy. She was also a lie.

When reporters investigated this story, they found only one case that even remotely supported Reagan’s claim. The woman’s name was Linda Taylor, from the south side of Chicago. She had defrauded the state of only $8,000 and had only four aliases.

But facts be damned.


As a child of the 80’s, the image of the baby-popping, Cadillac-driving welfare queen was seared into my mind. But so was the image of my mother: an educated black woman who waited for marriage and her 30’s to have children. My mother embodied four generations of higher education and even went on to earn a doctoral degree*.

She was also a welfare mother.

And, according to Reaganomics, she was the bane of society. By their calculations, my mother’s predicament was her fault, and her fault alone. Never mind the nationwide recession or that my father (well into his 30’s and with his own set of degrees*) left her alone with two small children. Never mind her dogged attempts to find work and the racism and sexism that waited for her at each interview. She was part of a plague rippling across the country. Part of a racialized, sexualized—but faceless—army.

Now that army is back.

  • jackieM

    When I was in college about seven years ago, I researched and found that the average welfare recepient is only on welfare for two years. So, yes, the welfare queen belief is rubbish.

    But let’s not minimize how many Americans have had to go on food stamps under Barack Obama’s administration. That will be used against him. Obama will not be the next president. Those who never thought of themselves having to go on govt assistance will not vote for him. A Republican will be the next president and yes, they will use the welfare queen to get votes.

  • fuchsia

    I will probably cry if a Republican is elected President. The amount of racism blatantly on display every single time I turn on the news stations makes me fear for this country. I can’t believe people would be that stupid as to not do what is right when it’s time to vote. This is the first year that I see my generation so involved with politics and protests because of Obama’s campaign in 2008, social media and waking up to the realization that the decision makers do not care about us as much as they claim. We are informed and smart. There was no Republican that could have done a better job given the circumstances, and with the House vowing to do whatever it takes to get Obama out of office rather than do their job (also on display) it just shows they are more lazy than any “Welfare Queen” they are trying to conjure up. Living off the backs of the poor and middle class and calling it “tax breaks” is harder to explain away than why people had to get on assistance during Obama’s era. It’s a new day. Republicans will lose.

  • Natalie

    Republicans aren’t going to win. Honestly, look at the candidates.

  • Bunni

    @jackieM: Whatever helps you sleep . . .

    I worked many years for a Fortune 500 company, working my way up from mailroom to management in eleven years. Life was great – had the house, the car, the 401k, etc. Coincidentally, after GW became president, jobs began to have massive layoffs. As a victim of such, and after going on one interview after another, I found myself standing in an ever-increasing line to receive welfare and food stamps. The year was 2007 and GW, not Obama, was president. In my circle, those of us who were fairly prosperous in the early 2000′s found ourselves dependent on the county just to have a half-way decent meal. Our president has tried the undo the damage in three years what it took GW eight years to screw up. Perhaps in your dream/drug-induced world Obama is not doing a good job. I ask you to wake up and ask yourself whether or not this country is better off now than it was five years ago. Post Script: Did I ever find a job? Sure did, after Obama took office.

  • jackieM

    My goodness, your comment is way offfffff base. Why are you up in arms? Did I say Obama was a horrible president? Did I say he is the welfare president? What did I say? Let’s recap, shall we… CLEARLY I stated that through my own research I know that the welfare figures being pushed are false. Did you read that in my first paragraph? Next, I stated that this false info will be used against Obama. And because more American are on food stamps than a few years ago, this will be used against him. I never said he was a horrible president. I dont need to wake and re-evaluate a thing. You should wake up and re read my comment.

    Your such in a rush to go off. Oh and Im voting for Obama. But do I think he will win? Nope.

  • Nickey

    lol. I hope they do not win.

  • Nickey

    lol. The republican candidates are some wierd people.

  • Nickey

    lol. The republican candidates are some weird people

  • J.A.M.

    I think what strikes me most about this article is not the fact that the GOP and its leadership is racist (I think we all kinda knew that), it’s that these scaremongering tactics they are using are actually working in what people try to argue is a post-racial society. People say racism is over, “get over it”, and accuse POC’s of pulling the race card. But this article demonstrates that we are far from reaching the mountaintop and a head-in-the-sand mentality is not going to help us. We need to meet these issues head on and examine them without the knee-jerk reaction of trying to ignore them.

  • jackieM

    I think their racist nature will get them in office. This country is progressing racially, but also going backwards. They know that their racist comments will get them plenty of votes.

  • Shirley

    Jackie please don’t spew Republican lies about President Obama’s administration.

    “But let’s not minimize how many Americans have had to go on food stamps under Barack Obama’s administration. That will be used against him. Obama will not be the next president. Those who never thought of themselves having to go on govt assistance will not vote for him.”


    Under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.

    Under President Barack H. Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program 444,574 fewer recipients during under President Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.

  • leonard smalls

    I’m surprised that Colored people would be surprised. A sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

  • leonard smalls

    Negro please! Your position in this country has always been the same and will always be the same, no matter what party was in power. Your problem is one of a lack of power. Hence, your position in this country will change until you address that power differential between. Be not mislead, begging, hoping and wishing yourself into power will not suffice.

    Carry on.

  • BlacknAmazed

    @JackieM….Butter Cup….your comments… what a contradiction…all in one statement.

    Their racism will get them elected. lol then you say but, the country is progressing. really

    What’s sad is that many black people are being lead to believe because a black man is out marryin in record numbers a non black woman….means that everyone else in this country has changed to….that’s far from true. Most whites…marry white…and they are four times larger than the black population…check..lastest census. Latino community…marry latino’s….larger population than blacks….So, really at the end of the day…you have been lead to believe there is all this progress….based on the way black men marry….I notice when people say that…that’s usually what they are referring to. Obama is mixed. So, please don’t give me that black prez stuff….lol The black community as whole and in the true sense of The Black Community…is not progressing…I’ll just throw out….school systems in urban areas, unemployment rates…for one of the smallest communites in this country…black folks. Katrina! and I can keep going. I think things are just done a little differently…but it’s the same isht.
    Yes…I know there are rich black people in America….and large amount of them go broke before retirement….and the rest remove themselves from the black community…that wealth is not used in our community. now is it? So, please don’t into people can get million dollar football contracts.

  • Nadell

    Reports show: Welfare recipient percentages – 51% white, 23% black, 21% hispanic, 5% asian

    The so claimed ‘majority’ will always outweigh & outnumber ‘minorities’ in some type of percentage…simple math!

  • edub

    This particular thread is telling. The responses to jackieM are not only off base but hostile. Some Obama supporters are just aiming and firing without digesting the basis and logic of an argument. Please re-read her comment because no where is she spewing republican lies. She never made the comment that there were MORE people on welfare under Obama than Bush. She simply stated that Obama has baggage that he will have to address during election season.

    Comparing Obama’s record to Bush makes no sense as he is not running against him. He is, however, running against “Hope and Change” and, when you do compare THAT Change with Bush, they are about neck and neck.

  • jackieM

    Shirley, did I say MORE welfare/ food stamps recipients have been added under the Obama administration? Where in my statement am I lying? People have to read carefully. AND stop being in denial. If you think the high numbers of unemployment, foreclosures, AND WELFARE INCREASES, etc will not be used against him then you are not aware of how politics works? I dont care if this mess started with Bush, it will be placed on Obama’s head. You should know that if you watch the dabates, news shows, read, it’s all around us. And for those who are screaming Bush started this, it is going on deaf ears and you all are not facing reality. When it’s time to campaign you dont point out your opponents strengths you point out his weaknesses and you spin them in your favor.
    Thanks edub for reading my comments carefully.

  • jackieM

    How did you get on interracial marriage? I was responding to J.A.M.’s comment about Republican’s using racial scaremongering as campaign tactics. I did not speak about IR marriage nor about Obama’s racial background. Your mind went else where then you accuse me of assuming interracial marriage means that race relations has progressed. STAY ON TOPIC.

    When I spoke of progression Im speaking of the racial achievement regarding work, segregation, etc. But at the same time the Republicans will use the numbers of blacks on welfare, unemployment, etc as a scare tactic. Listen to Newt G. What did he say about poor blacks? That was a scare tactic. You better believe that got him some needed supporters. And just in case you are not aware, this country is not only about racial divide, but class divide. And it wont be long before class division overrides race division. And Republicans, with their racist nature, will use both divisions to win votes. And remember when campaigning, the truth means nothing.

    So let’s recap…my statement was not how people perceive race relations as changed for the good b/c of the number of black men marrying non black women (WOW, Im still amazed how you picked that up from my simple 3 sentence comment). My comment was about how Republican’s racist nature will get them votes. Wow.

  • Shirley

    You spewed Republican lies and distortions and was confronted with the FACTS, with a link to a non partisan credible source. jackieM continue to find comfort in the right wing propaganda that’s being regurgitated in the GOP “debates” and right wing media, because no matter how much you Republicans and CONNEDservatives wish for American voters to come down with a severe case of collective amnesia, resulting in blaming President Obama for the economy, most Americans and, more importantly, registered independent voters, rightly blame former President George W, Bush for the state of the economy according to this Washington Post-ABC News poll.

    From the story:

    Fifty-four percent of respondents said that Bush was more to blame while 29 percent put the blame on Obama; 9 percent said both men deserved blame while 6 percent said neither did. Among registered voters, the numbers are almost identical; 54 percent blame Bush, while 30 percent blame Obama.

    Independents, widely considered the most critical voting bloc this fall, continue to blame Bush far more than Obama for the economic troubles. Fifty-seven percent of unaffiliated voters put the blame on the former Republican president, while 25 percent believe the blame rests more with Obama.

    Heck, even one in five Republicans say Bush is more responsible than Obama for the state of the economy!

    The economic blame game numbers are somewhat remarkable given that Obama is in the third year of his presidency, a tenure defined by the continued economic distress in the country.

    We’ve written for quite some time that the longer Obama is in office (and the longer Bush is out of it), the more likely it is that blame for the economy would shift toward him. But, these numbers suggest — gasp! — we were wrong.

    Early in his presidency, Obama spent considerable rhetorical time and energy making sure people knew the economic difficulties he had inherited from Bush.

    Republicans criticized that backward-looking approach, arguing that whatever had happened in the past, it was up to Obama to make things better in the future.

    *** Also Americans won’t forget how the GOP’s constant attempts to bring down the US economy in hopes of defeating President Obama. But despite GOP destructive efforts, President Obama’s progressive have the economy heading in the right direction. Just think how much farther ahead along we would be if the GOP’s agenda was to actually serve everyday American citizens, instead of trying to destroy and discredit President Obama?

  • Shirley

    As long as we don’t allow for the GOP’s voter suppression efforts to prevent us and others from voting, President Obama will be re-elected. I hope that your generation learned a valuable lesson, every election is IMPORTANT, the GOP’s wins in the ’10 elections were made possible due to historically low voter turnout, just think how things would have been significantly better had not the GOP gained control of the House, Governorships and state legislatures?

  • Shirley

    @jackieM & other GOP HACKS:

    “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

  • jackieM

    First, I didnt look up your link so I didnt read your “facts”. 2nd, Im not going to read beyond the first paragraph. You’re commenting in anger and you may not be that bright. Because if you wouldve read my comments correctly, you will know that Im not a GOP voter. Im an independant who plans to vote for Obama. But Im also not in denial to think that the Republicans will not use this country’s current situation against him. Geod bless, take care.

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    I get pretty tired of the welfare stereotype being flinged around against blacks. I’ve worked most of my life and do not take gov’t handouts, as do most other blacks I know. The welfare queen myth is irritating to those of us who work hard, pay our taxes and are productive citizens.

    Also @ Jackie- it should be no surprise that you’d see an increase in welfare use. After all we are in a RECESSION (created by the previous president) and unemployment is at a peak high (as mentioned before). Most of the people who are probably utilizing these services now are not career leeches, but people who lost their jobs and needed assistance to care for themselves and their families. Since these folks paid taxes into the system, I see no problem in seeking help in a time of need.

    The only advantage I see for the Republicans is the fact that middle America has a short-term memory and have forgotten how we got here in the first place. So as I see it, if the Repubs win, it’s only cos our fellow countrymen are that idiotic.

  • Alex Violette

    Go Mary. kill that shit. LOV-ING-IT.


  • Bunny

    I’d like to believe that too but, when it comes down to it, they’ll do anything to see Obama out of office. People were terrified (I wonder why…) when Obama became president, and fear will drive people to do stupid things.

  • Bunny

    I don’t know if you intended to do this or not, but you reinstated the Welfare Queen myth in the same breath as you denounced it. So you “do not take gov’t handouts, as do most other blacks I know”? Really? “The welfare queen myth is irritating to those of us who work hard, pay our taxes and are productive citizens.” Have you guys not ever heard of the working poor?

  • jamesfrmphilly

    obama will win easily because the republican challengers are very seriously flawed…….

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    That’s the thing- most working poor people do not receive benefits because they make too much money. Most of the people I know on welfare do not work.

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    And even then, unemployment doesn’t guarantee assistance. My friend who got laid off couldn’t get food stamps or Medicaid cos her unemployment benefits were too high.

    The government rarely, if ever, helps working people in need.

  • Bunny

    So if that’s what you really believe, why even refer to it as an irritating myth? You obviously think it’s true, based on your comments.

    I personally don’t. I know there are people who abuse the system, but I honestly think that’s a small percentage. The people I have seen apply and receive welfare benefits definitely need it.

  • Viviane

    It’s interesting to me that the author mentions (almost in passing, as if it’s certainly nothing unusual) that her family had to go on welfare when her father, who had multiple degrees, left her mother and his two young children to fend for themselves.

    Damn, our men are good at leaving!

    No one is better at abandoning their families, that’s for sure.

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    What I find irritating is that people believe that all black people are on welfare, not that there are system abusers and people who siphon off the gov’t. I know for a fact that there are those who do it (and have seen it myself), but it’s not all black people who do it.

  • Claudine Elvin

    Love it well done and said

  • Royal Crown Sheets

    Hello my friend! I want to say that this article is amazing, nice written and come with approximately all important infos. I’d like to look extra posts like this .

  • Pingback: Critical Mass Progress | GOP Racism and The Criminalization of President Obama: Today’s Episode – “Welfare King”

  • Dylan

    Something about this article pisses me off, I can’t put my finger on it. It isn’t that I just don’t agree with it, there’s something in it that doesn’t sit right with me, it might be the way that facts are presented but, I still loved this article. Although I am essentially classified as a Republican, I try to hold an open mind and this article is one of those that I appreciate because of how well it was written. I applaud you for your work and would like to reed more.

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