General assistance, welfare reform, social construction, policy design, Great Recession


This paper addresses a gap in welfare reform literature by investigating the social constructions of poor people in state policymaking within the context of diminishing General Assistance (GA) after the Great Recession. Using Social Construction and Policy Design Theoryand thematic content analysis of Washington State’s legislative archives, I found that the negative constructions of GA recipients as deviants with undesired psychological and behavioral problems were associated with the reform direction toward a regulated, punitive model. These constructions, intersecting with the ideologies of personal responsibility and work ethic, contribute to the dismantling of the social safety net for the Washington’s poorest residents.

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