"I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent
from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better,
because America has no choice but to do better.”
~ Thurgood Marshall

Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes Lecture and Media Topics


Home > Research > Racial, Economic, and Gender Inequality

What does rising income inequality mean for the ability of individuals to move up the economic ladder?

Whether the focus is on how intersections of race, gender, class, and health shape one’s experiences in the labor market, the opportunities and constraints facing bureaucracies that target those on the bottom of the economic ladder, or the dilemmas challenging upward mobility in an age of rising income inequality, I investigate how individuals negotiate key questions of survival and mobility in a context of racial and gender hierarchies and economic constraints.


This is an ethnographic analysis of the implementation of welfare reform on the front lines of service delivery. It investigates how the professional, racial, class, and community identities of welfare caseworkers and supervisors shape the implementation of policy and other organizational dynamics. Study findings indicate that while welfare reform changed the job descriptions of front-line staff members (from eligibility-compliance claims processors to welfare-to-work caseworkers), these agencies were largely unable to undertake the steps necessary to change employees' professional identities.

As a result, welfare reform did not unfold as many policy makers had imagined it, and a piecemeal system of service-delivery is now underway. While we have witnessed caseload reductions and increased work among low-income mothers, inequalities abound in how clients receive the services most likely to influence their abilities to sustain economic self-sufficiency.

This incomplete revolution has also solidified many of the long-standing tensions around race, class, and community belonging in these offices in ways that have direct and indirect effects on service-delivery and other organizational dynamics.

The book, , was released in 2009 by the University of Chicago Press. In order to complete this project, Dr. Watkins-Hayes received support from The National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0512018), The Brookings Institution, and the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.

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Celeste Watkins-Hayes - Academic Articles

Creating Networks for Survival and Mobility:
Social Capital Among African-American
and Latin-American Low-Income Mothers


Social Problems. 50(1): 111-135 read article

A Tale of Two Classes: Socio-Economic Inequality
Among African Americans Under 35


The State of Black America 2001.
New York: National Urban League.
read article

When a Stumble is Not a Fall: Recovering from
Employment Setbacks in the Welfare to Work Transition


Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy. 6(1): 63-84
read article

Celeste Watkins-Hayes - Commentary & Blog Posts

The Immorality of Evading the Nanny Tax.
The Atlantic, March 26, 2014read article

Government Already Has Tools Available.
The New York Times, October 1, 2013read article

The Power of the Prenup: Let's Broaden This Discussion
The New York Times, March 21, 2013 read article

No More Working at Home: Is It the End of the Smart Mom?
Al Jazeera English, March 5, 2013 read article

Brian Babylon and Comedy as a Social Science
Chicago Magazine, December 21, 2011 read article

Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Post-Racial America
Chicago Magazine, December 14, 2011 read article

What Are Scholars' Responsibilities to the Communities We Study?
Orgtheory.net, June 8, 2011 read article