Social Stigma and the ‘Welfare Check’: An Examination of Mistrust and Misuse of Social Capital

In the 1960s, the Appalachian region was a major target area of the US government’s War on Poverty. Once highly noted for its tremendous post-industrial era contributions to the world’s timber and coal industries, subsequent changing economic demands and industry closures in the region have left many still living in a state of unforgiving poverty. The region still greatly suffers due to a high concentration of poverty and unemployment. Poverty still demands attention, and scholars must understand its persistence. Many note the consistent lack of access to resources, both economic and social, as primary factors (Saegert, Thompson and Warren 2001; Blakeney 2006). Therefore, I draw on social capital and its underlying relational, social engagements as my main theoretical frame and understand the persistent poverty in the Appalachian region through the highly contested – and often stigmatized – artifact of the ‘welfare check’. I will show how the misconceptions of the ‘welfare check’ illustrates further the effect that strong bonding ties can have on impeding the development of bridging ties – most notably how fear or people’s reactions, are a response founded in stigma, potentially leads to the heavy reliance on an object which arguably perpetuates poverty. I will conclude, by establishing a conversation founded in capitalizing bonding capital and establishing a dialogue which allows for the remission of regional mistrust, thus allowing outside industry to potentially remedy the economic deprivation in the region.