"The Origin and Transformation of the Idea of Workfare: From Charles Evers to Richard Nixon"
last update: 20151224
The Origin and Transformation of the Idea of Workfare: From Charles Evers to Richard Nixon
This article unveils the origin and development of the idea of workfare in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
"Workfare" was invented by Charles Evers, a Civil Rights leader, who succeeded in organizing a boycott in
Mississippi but then disbanded it to run for Congress in 1968. During the campaign, one of the programs he
proposed was workfare. Although Evers lost the Congressional campaign, he later won the mayoral election in
Fayette, Mississippi in 1969. After becoming the mayor, he attracted companies, created employment, and
reduced the number of public assistance recipients. His political strategy was to increase voter registration by
black people without scaring white people. He used workfare to help black people, because white people did not
like welfare. The word workfare soon became nationally famous when President Nixon used it in a TV speech to
propose a welfare reform plan in August 1969. Through the process in which the plan was deliberated and
rejected in 1972, the effectiveness of welfare in moving recipients to employment came to be questioned. As a
result, the idea of workfare was redefined in the early 1970's to mean that welfare recipients must work in
return for their benefits.
Keywords: Workfare, Charles Evers, Civil Rights Movement, Mississippi, Nixon