The Racist Roots of Work Requirements

Washington, DC (February 10, 2020)—As hundreds of thousands of people face losing food assistance because of expanded work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and states continue to implement plans to deny health insurance to families who do not meet Medicaid work requirements, a new Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) report traces the roots of these policies to attempts to coerce and exploit the labor of Black families, going back to slavery.

At their most basic, work requirements take away assistance from families who do not work for a certain number of hours a week, in one or more pre-approved activities. Our new report, The Racist Roots of Work Requirements, uncovers how racist stereotypes that Black people do not want to work have fueled work requirements for decades, and how work requirements have been implemented so that they disproportionately harm Black families, and undervalue their contributions to the economy and their families. In the national debate over work requirements, many are unaware of this history.

“Work requirements institutionalize racism in our system of social supports,” said Elisa Minoff, author of the report and Senior Policy Analyst at CSSP. “These policies disproportionately harm Black families and other families of color, deny all families the support they need, and discount the real work that people do.”

The Trump administration has consistently promoted work requirements—seeking to restrict access not only to Medicaid and SNAP, but also to housing assistance and other social supports by imposing and strengthening work requirements.

“We should repeal, not expand, these policies,” said Minoff.  “In their place we should implement policies that value people’s labor at work and at home and make it possible for all families to lead happy, healthy, economically secure lives.”

Download the full report here. 

About CSSP. The Center for the Study of Social Policy is a national, non-profit policy organization that connects community action, public system reform, and policy change to create a fair and just society. We work to achieve a racially, economically, and socially just society in which all children and families thrive by translating ideas into action, promoting public policies grounded in equity, supporting strong and inclusive communities, and advocating with and for all children and families marginalized by public policies and institutional practices.