The Original Welfare Queen

The Dish

Josh Levin profiles Linda Taylor, the real-life Chicago “welfare queen” who inspired Ronald Reagan’s infamous invective:

It’s impossible to define the exact scope of welfare fraud in America then or now. A 1983 publication sponsored by the Department of Justice, for example, estimated annual Aid to Families With Dependent Children overpayments at between $376 million and $3.2 billion—not exactly a precise range. What’s clear, though, is that Linda Taylor’s larger-than-life example created an indelible, inaccurate impression of public aid recipients.

The plural of anecdote is not data. The plural of the craziest anecdote you’ve ever heard is definitely not data. And yet, the story of the welfare queen instantly infected the policy debate over welfare reform. Sociologist Richard M. Coughlin notes that in 1979, AFDC families had a median of just 2.1 children and a very low standard of living compared to the average American. In 2013, Bureau of…

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