Welfare reform, in its attempts to order the lives of women on cash assistance, uses time as a means of controlling women. Single mothers living in poverty experience, perceive and use time in ways that the state welfare bureaucracy fails to recognize and/or refuses to work with. Poverty is anchored in a historical and cyclical dynamic based on low valuations of people's time, structured by race, class and gender. This essay shows how specific temporal sequences, orderings and flows are implicated in the etiology of poverty, forming cumulative feedback loops that challenge the linear trajectory of the welfare-to-work model. It argues that the welfare state bureaucracy practices a powerful politics of time, consisting in the imposition of forms of order and rigid temporal structures on the highly contingent and unpredictable lives of the poor. These temporal devices of control, rather than facilitating women's efforts to move from dependence to self-reliance, only exacerbate their struggles to manage the vagaries and irregularities of time in their lives. Time thus constitutes a locus of struggle in the welfare relationship, between women on welfare and the welfare agency.
Keywords: welfare reform, ethnography, time, poverty
How to Cite: Coelho K., (2003) “Timed Out: Temporal Struggles between the State and the Poor in the Context of U.S. Welfare Reform”, Arizona Anthropologist 15.