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access to a number of financial, material, social, and symbolic resources unavailable to
black and Latina welfare recipients.
ent white women, 2 we identify six potential benefits white welfare dependent women
gain from concealing their welfare status in a racially segregated housing market. First,
it enabled them to secure access to Section 8 housing located in middle- and upper
middle-class suburban communities where there was less demand for social services for
low-income families. Second, it provided access to material resources due to reduced
competition for donated food, clothing, gifts, and in-kind services provided by local
philanthropists. Third, these neighborhoods provided access to safety by reducing ex-
posure to physical violence and theft. Fourth, the children of welfare dependent women
gained access to superior public education services, especially for those children with
special needs. Fifth, concealing one's welfare status provided access to privileged social
networks and social capital. Finally, concealing one's welfare status mediated welfare
stigma and provided welfare dependent white women with a form of respectability.
Welfare Stigma Management
Erving Goffman (1963) defines social stigma as a discrepancy between an individual's
virtual social identity and an individual's actual social identity. Three types of social
nation, and religion” (Goffman 1963, 4). Using Goffman's framework, the poor, espe-
cially welfare recipients, are stigmatized due to their “blemishes of individual charac-
ter.” Elaborating further, Goffman argues that all stigmatized individuals fall between
two categories: the discredited or the discreditable. A stigmatized individual is charac-
terized as discredited when his or his stigma is readily apparent or has been previously
exposed to others. “Covering up” is the process by which a discredited individual man-
ages and reduces tension in mixed social interactions. Covering-up strategies primarily
involve efforts “to restrict the display of those failings most centrally identified with
the stigma” (Goffman 1963, 103), which is an essential component of assimilative tech-
niques. For example, changes in name or physical appearance are not merely about
passing as nondeviant but function to minimize the presence of one's stigma in social
Conversely, discreditable individuals are those whose stigma is unknown to others.
In order to manage personal information, the discreditable use of “passing” as normal
is a stigma management strategy. One critical passing strategy “is to conceal or obliter-
ate signs that have come to be stigma symbols” (Goffman 1963, 92) which often occurs
along with the use of disidentifiers. Furthermore, those who pass strategically main-
tain physical and social distance with others in order to ensure the concealment of their
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