Co-Sponsored by the Chicago and Urbana campuses of the University of Illinois, and the Labor and Working Class History Association
Friday, May 14, from 3:00pm to 5:00pm
Manpower/Womanpower: Developing Workers, Constructing "Employables"
Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara
In the last half century, the obtainment of social rights through waged work has become more problematic with economic restructuring and political challenges to the welfare state itself. Yet precisely during this period, welfare reform concentrated on moving recipients from welfare to "work," while poverty programs promoted training as the solution for low income. Amid a generalized reaffirmation of the work ethic, both relied on constructing the category of "employables." Manpower/womanpower programs, first proposed during the onset of the Cold War for "more effective development and utilization of the nation's human resources," morphed into making workers out of those whose characteristics were blamed for their poverty. This paper considers how job training intersected with poverty and welfare reform during the 1960s and early 1970s through the case studies of the Job Corps, that Great Society program judged the "centerpiece" of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, and the struggle over workfare that culminated in the 1973 Supreme Court case, New York State Department of Social Services v. Dublino. It is part of a larger project that looks at the consequences of defining citizenship through the employment relationship. Even in exercising the right to work, men and women of color, as well as some white women, found themselves still regarded as bodies on the job. The right to earn by itself was never enough; it required not only adequate income but also dignity, respect, and recognition.
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