Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor and We Might Buy Them Dinner: Social Capital, Immigration, and Welfare Generosity in the American States

AuthorDaniel P. Hawes,Austin Michael McCrea
Published date01 June 2018
Date01 June 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2018, Vol. 71(2) 347 –360
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917738576
In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and
Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). One
major implication of the legislation was that the benefit
program Aid to Families With Dependent Children
(AFDC) was replaced with Temporary Aid for Needy
Families (TANF). Welfare reform allowed states to exer-
cise significant discretion in welfare decisions, including
eligibility and benefit levels. Welfare reform was hailed
by proponents as a success as states witnessed significant
declines in welfare rolls in the years following reform.
However, little existing research has developed a theo-
retical understanding of the mechanisms by which immi-
gration and social capital relate to, and affect social
welfare programs.
We provide a theoretical explanation for how social
capital shapes welfare generosity and how this relation-
ship is conditioned by immigration. In this paper, we ask
three questions. First, what is the relationship between
social capital and welfare generosity? Second, how do
increases in immigration affect state welfare generosity?
And finally, does social capital operate differently with
respect to its effects on welfare generosity under different
immigration contexts?
Social Capital: Society’s Lubricant
Social capital has been described as the glue that holds
communities together and acts as a social lubricant that
helps society function more smoothly (Anderson and
Jack 2002; Grootaert 1998). The most prominent defini-
tion comes from Robert Putnam who conceptualizes
social capital as “connections among individuals” or
“social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trust-
worthiness that arise from them” (Putnam 2000, 19).
Social norms and social trust are central to the develop-
ment and maintenance of social capital. It is these norms
738576PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917738576Political Research QuarterlyHawes and McCrea
1Kent State University, OH, USA
2Texas A&M University, College Station, USA
Corresponding Author:
Daniel P. Hawes, Department of Political Science, Kent State
University, Bowman Hall 302, Kent, OH 44242-0001, USA.
Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor and
We Might Buy Them Dinner: Social
Capital, Immigration, and Welfare
Generosity in the American States
Daniel P. Hawes1 and Austin Michael McCrea2
A long-standing debate persists regarding how social capital relates to diversity and inequality in the American states.
Putnam argues social capital leads to greater equality and tolerance; however, others find that it increases racial inequality.
We build on Soss, Fording, and Schram’s Racial Classification Model (RCM) and theorize that social capital enhances social
trust and empathy in homogeneous contexts and favors paternalistic and punitive social controls in diverse contexts. We
test this using the case of immigration and welfare generosity following the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. Using state-level data from 1997 to 2009, we find that under conditions of low
immigration, social capital is associated with increased social trust and empathy; however, as immigration increases, social
capital pivots toward favoring mechanisms of social control. Specifically, social capital increases Temporary Assistance for
Needy Families (TANF) cash benefit levels, but only when immigration levels are low. In high-immigration contexts, social
capital is associated with decreased welfare generosity.
social capital, immigration, welfare, inequality, diversity

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