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Welfare queen is a derogatory label applied by politicians, social critics, and others to describe women who abuse the welfare system by having several children in order to increase their welfare benefits and thus their own standard of living. The image of the welfare queen, an otherwise able-bodied woman who exploits poverty benefits in order to avoid employment, is typically evoked by those who resent the poor as well as those who oppose legislation that provides various types of poverty assistance, including cash, food stamps, and other welfare benefits. The term may also be used in a nonpolitical context by people who resent those who receive government assistance.
In the United States, the myth of the welfare queen began to rise in the early 1980s and was promoted by some conservative politicians to describe women having many children and committing outright fraud in order to receive benefits and to not have to find employment. These stories often depicted women who were lazy and promiscuous, scamming the system and then using their benefits pay for drugs or luxury items. One common version of the welfare queen story depicted a woman driving a Cadillac paid for with her welfare benefits. Welfare queen stories also often included a racial element in which the welfare queen was described as part of a racial minority, thus fueling negative stereotypes about the poor and members of some racial and ethnic groups.
While several public policy analysts and academics have attempted to challenge the welfare queen myth, the stereotype remains. As a result, welfare laws in the United States have changed significantly since the 1990s in an attempt to decrease dependence on public benefits along with creating safeguards that fight welfare fraud. For example, welfare laws in the United States now restrict the period of time a individual or family can receive benefits. Some benefits, such as food stamps, are now available through electronic benefit cards, similar to debt cards, which makes it more difficult for somebody who receives food assistance to sell or transfer her benefits to another person.
Another stereotype that corresponds to the welfare queen stereotype is that of the so-called poverty pimp, someone who claims to be involved in charitable work but mainly supports himself through grants and other funds intended for the poor while not being able to demonstrate doing any actual good in impoverished communities. While the so-called poverty pimp may not directly be receiving welfare benefits, he may be employed as a result of being employed through the use of public funds as well as private grants. Individuals who advocate welfare reform frequently attack both the individuals receiving welfare benefits as well as those who are in the business of providing social services and argue that both classes of people are a drain on the system.
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