A mother holds an infant in front of a set of curtains. The room is dark but there is light and the shadows of trees beyond the curtains. Image via pixabay, Pixabay License.

The new Netflix show, Maid, based on the best-selling memoir by Stephanie Land, chronicles a mother’s journey out of domestic violence and towards safety. The story offers an intimate portrait of the many barriers facing impoverished mothers, including the never-ending obstacles in securing government assistance.

Sociological research has consistently found that the welfare system inadequately serves the poor. From red tape to contradictory policies, accessing government assistance is notoriously difficult to navigate. Further, welfare is highly stigmatized in the United States with shame and coercion baked into its process. 

Due to gendered expectations of parenting, mothers face increased scrutiny about their children’s well being. In particular, mothers of low socioeconomic status are often harshly judged for their parenting without consideration of the structural inequities they face. Mothers seeking assistance from the welfare system are often judged because of cultural stereotypes about motherhood, poverty, and government assistance.  

The U.S. welfare system has been a contentious subject for decades with public perceptions of poverty influencing the social safety net. The derogatory infamous image of the “welfare queen” – an allegedly lazy or irresponsible woman who exploits government programs – demonstrates how racist images of poverty and motherhood directly impacted policy making. This body of work takes a historical perspective on welfare and motherhood to consider how gender and racial stereotypes influence public policies. 

Much research directly contradicts the welfare queen trope, showing instead how impoverished families have fallen through the cracks of the welfare system. This work  highlights the astounding income inequality in the contemporary United States and the resourcefulness and resiliency of impoverished families and individuals and their struggle to survive on little-to-no resources.