Not Working

Latina Immigrants, Low-Wage Jobs, and the Failure of Welfare Reform

308 pages

3 illustrations

April, 2006

ISBN: 9780814757109



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Alejandra Marchevsky is associate professor of liberal studies at California State University, Los Angeles.

All books by Alejandra Marchevsky

Jeanne Theoharis is distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY.  She is the author of numerous books and articles on the black freedom struggle, including the award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Beacon Press, 2013) and most recently A More Beautiful and Terrible History (Beacon Press, 2018).

All books by Jeanne Theoharis

Not Working chronicles the devastating effects of the 1996 welfare reform legislation that ended welfare as we know it. For those who now receive public assistance, “work” means pleading with supervisors for full-time hours, juggling ever-changing work schedules, and shuffling between dead-end jobs that leave one physically and psychically exhausted.

Through vivid story-telling and pointed analysis, Not Working profiles the day-to-day struggles of Mexican immigrant women in the Los Angeles area, showing the increased vulnerability they face in the welfare office and labor market. The new “work first” policies now enacted impose time limits and mandate work requirements for those receiving public assistance, yet fail to offer real job training or needed childcare options, ultimately causing many families to fall deeper below the poverty line.

Not Working shows that the new “welfare-to-work” regime has produced tremendous instability and insecurity for these women and their children. Moreover, the authors argue that the new politics of welfare enable greater infringements of rights and liberty for many of America's most vulnerable and constitute a crucial component of the broader assault on American citizenship. In short, the new welfare is not working.


  • “With this book, Marchevsky and Theoharis make a distinct contribution to the welfare reform debate by addressing a topic that has received less attention in the literature, namely how welfare reforms have impacted immigrant. Not Working is particularly timely as immigrants become more visible as they move to less traditional U.S. regions to find work and the immigration debate rages.”

    Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare

  • “Original and insightful. Not Working is a powerful book, connecting theories of the state, citizenship, and globalization with first rate ethnography. It is an instant classic and will remain the definitive book on immigrant women and welfare reform for some time.”

    —Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, author of Dom√©stica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence

  • “This is a scholarly, professional critique of social science research paradigms generally, and poverty knowledge industry and associated applied policy research in particular:”

    Choice: Highly recommended

  • “A smart, engaging, and groundbreaking study that exposes the racist underpinnings of welfare reform. A model of stellar scholarship and a must read for anyone seeking to understand poverty in relation to the meaning of American citizenship today.”

    —Arlene Davila, author of Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City

  • “This highly significant contribution assures that Latina immigrants will no longer be invisible in scholarly research on welfare reform. This superb ethnography establishes a clear connection to the political, legal, and economic realities that is needed in reassessing the success stories of welfare reform. It should be read by all those concerned with social inequality, poverty, and justice in America.”

    —Mary Romero, author of Maid in the U.S.A