Walking the Talk of Social Equity? Street-Level Bureaucrats’ Decisionmaking About the Provision of Personal Resources

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While public administration scholars argue that core values of social equity are exceedingly important in service provision, less is known of how these values are practised on the frontline in the contemporary public administration. Research points to a dual trend: together with practices aimed at increasing clients’ wellbeing, public service workers’ decisions about allocating public resources are guided by moral perceptions of worthiness, leaving behind the most weakened populations. The current study aims to decipher this duality, analyzing street-level bureaucrats’ decisionmaking about providing personal resources to low-income clients, in order to examine whether the pursuit of social equity is manifested in informal practices. Drawing on indepth qualitative interviews of social service providers in Israel, we found that decisionmaking about personal resource provision is grounded in two distinct sets of values. Alongside a pattern of providing resources to deserving clients, street-level bureaucrats also provide them to clients typically considered undeserving. These latter practices are aimed at decreasing social inequality, demonstrating that social service providers often walk the talk of social equity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-14
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Review of Public Administration
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • personal resources
  • qualitative
  • social equity
  • street-level
  • worthy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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