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Chapter 3: Race and rumor
Apr 5, 2023
Season 6 | Episode 3

Chapter 3: Race and rumor

How a rumor about welfare cheats transformed a small city.

“There’s a sign in [a] Montgomery [Alabama] or Atlanta railroad station that says ‘Go to Newburgh and get paid for not working.’ That’s what we’re up against.”

So reads a 1961 newspaper article about Newburgh, New York, and its war on welfare.

Starting in the 1950s, a rumor about signs telling poor Black people to move to Newburgh to live off welfare riled up the town. When leaders hired a new city manager, Joseph Mitchell, he essentially declared war on welfare — and the people who received it. It laid the groundwork for what would become a national fight over reforming welfare laws.

Across the country, suspicions grew about welfare recipients and the issue of “government dependency,” just as more Black people started gaining access to welfare benefits. 

In this episode, host Krissy Clark and producer Peter Balonon-Rosen go back in history to tell a surprising origin story about part of our welfare system — and put a magnifying glass on how we determine who deserves help and who doesn’t.

The future of this podcast starts with you.

This season of “The Uncertain Hour” tells the unheard stories of real people affected by the welfare-to-work industrial complex.

Stories like these are seldom in the limelight. It takes extensive time and resources to do this type of investigative journalism … to help you understand the complexity of our economy and to hold the powerful to account.

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The team

Krissy Clark Host and Senior Correspondent
Caitlin Esch Senior Producer
Marque Greene Assistant Producer
Grace Rubin Assistant Producer
Michael May Editor
Chris Julin Scoring and Sound Design