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date: 25 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines the trope of deservingness, one of the most enduring narratives used by government officials, the media, and the larger public to classify poor people and to determine whether they are worthy of assistance. It first considers the concept of deservingness and how it fits into popular explanations of poverty and the work of distributing public resources. It then describes the use of the concept of deservingness throughout the history of poor relief in the United States, with particular emphasis on how race, gender, and citizenship have been deployed to shape deservingness narratives in two important areas of social provision: cash assistance and health care. Finally, it reviews recent trends in the deployment of the deservingness/undeservingness discourse, highlighting areas that require more analysis.

Keywords: deservingness, undeservingness, poor people, poverty, public resources, poor relief, race, gender, cash assistance, health care

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