Long Reads: The Welfare Queen

by infraredbiped

Last week Slate published a wild, rambling tale about “Linda Taylor,” a Chicago psychopath who was convicted of extensive welfare (i.e., AFDC) and Social Security fraud in the mid-1970s.

The crazy thing about the story is that she is suspected of committing much more serious crimes, including kidnapping and murder.

The even crazier, stranger-than-fiction detail is that in spite of these alleged crimes the Chicago Tribune used her story to whip up a moral panic about welfare fraud, a panic which spread across the country when Ronald Reagan began using the story of “Linda Taylor” in his stump speeches in 1976.

The meme that welfare was mainly helping fraudsters and the “undeserving” poor ultimately discredited the program. The AFDC program was drastically reduced under Bill Clinton in 1996, part of the post-1976 pattern of neoliberal “reform” led by Democratic presidents.