LISTEN: Code Switch Dives Into Story Behind the ‘Welfare Queen’

By Ayana Byrd Jun 10, 2019

In 1974, the Chicago Tribune ran a headline that continues to impact the lives of millions of American women. It read “Welfare Queen Arrested” and was about a crime committed by Linda Taylor, a woman from Chicago’s Southside who became the basis for the “welfare queen” stereotype that helped Ronald Reagan win a presidential election and is still used to demonize Black mothers nationwide. 

In its newest episode, “The Original ‘Welfare Queen,’” NPR’s Code Switch does a deep dive into the life of Taylor. Posted yesterday (June 9), it looks at how a stereotype of the Black mother who wants to get rich off the system was born—and how it gave politicians and policymakers the racist rhetoric they needed to gut the Aid to Dependent Children program.


rntFrom the 1960s through the ’90s, Taylor was suspected of a wide swath of crimes, from kidnapping to murder. She changed names, careers, addresses and even races—born to a White mother and Black father, at times she said she was Filipina and Latinx to fit whatever her scam required. One of her crimes was welfare fraud, lying to Illinois to collect benefits to support her excessive lifestyle.

It was for this crime of welfare fraud that Taylor—whom podcast co-host Gene Demby emphasizes was an outlier—became infamous. “The so-called welfare queen would become one of the most enduring and pernicious stereotypes in American politics,” says Code Switch’s Shereen Marisol Meraji.

The episode includes an interview with Josh Levin, whose book “The Queen” examines Taylor’s life. There is audio of then-Governor Ronald Reagan enumerating Taylor’s crimes—some true and some embellished by the future president. And it tracks how in 1992, Bill Clinton ran on a platform plank that pledged he would end “welfare as we know it.”

Much of the podcast focuses on what the hosts call “the political and policy fallout” of Taylor. After becoming president, in 1996, Clinton signed a welfare reform law that limited how long people could draw benefits and placed new restrictions on who was eligible. In 1994, 14 million people received benefits; in the aftermath of Clinton’s reform, that number was slashed to 6 million by the year 2000.

Listen to the episode: