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Race, Bureaucratic Discretion, and the Implementation of Welfare Reform


  • The authors would like to thank Joe Soss for his helpful comments.

Lael R. Keiser is Associate Professor of Political Science and Truman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri, Columbia, 113 Professional Building, Columbia, MO 65211 ( Peter R. Mueser is Associate Professor of Economics, University of Missouri, Columbia, 118 Professional Building, Columbia, MO 65211 ( Seung-Whan Choi is Post-Doctoral Fellow of the Centre for Security and Defence Studies, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada (


This article explores the impact of the race of individual clients and of the local racial context on the implementation of sanctions for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in a Midwestern state. We find that although nonwhites are sanctioned at lower rates than whites overall, nonwhites are sanctioned more compared to whites in each local area. This paradox occurs because nonwhites tend to live in areas with lower sanction rates. Consistent with the literature on race and policy, we find that sanction rates increase as the nonwhite population increases until a threshold is reached where nonwhites gain political power.