Economic Insecurity and Punitiveness Toward Welfare, Immigration, and Crime

Michael T. Costelloe, Florida State University
Ted Chiricos, Florida State University
Marc Gertz, Florida State University

Over the last thirty years, corporate strategies such as disinvestment, deskilling, and downsizing have created an atmosphere of economic insecurity among many American workers. This insecurity has the potential to result in a general climate of punitiveness toward "others." The most visible targets include welfare recipients, immigrants, and criminals, groups who are seen as getting something for nothing. Two related forces may compel economically insecure workers to place blame on "others." First, in an effort to divert attention from the structural causes of insecurity, superordinates employ ideological discourse that subtly, and at times not so subtly, lays the blame for economic stagnation at the feet of those who are deemed as not adhering to normative work values. Second, many white males, who were once guaranteed a decent living wage simply based on their race and sex, are now angry and struggling to determine responsibility for their econonmic circumstances. The "angry white male" thus becomes susceptible to discourse that scapegoats "others." The present research surveys 2,250 Florida residents and uses OLS regression to test the hypothesis that individuals who experience greater economic insecurity will demonstrate more punitive attitudes toward welfare, immigration, and crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006