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Social Work History of Social Welfare in the United States
by
P. Nelson Reid

Introduction

“Social welfare” is an encompassing and imprecise term, but most often it is defined in terms of “organized activities,” “interventions,” or some other element that suggests policy and programs to respond to recognized social problems or to improve the well-being of those at risk. Social welfare, then, is concerned with what Richard Titmuss referred to as the “right order of relationships in society,” some ideal of the way in which a society works and fits together to form a suitable place for human habitation and development. That suitable place, in the American context, would provide opportunities for work and human meaning and a reasonable amount of security from want and assault, promote fairness and evaluation based on individual merit, and be economically productive and stable. Underneath, of course, is an assumption that human society can be organized and governed to produce and provide these things, and that because it is feasible to do so, there is a moral obligation to bring it to fruition. The distinctiveness of the American model is often described in negative comparative terms: the United States does not have a European-style welfare state. It is historically far less generous to the poor in terms of social benefits, far less protective of low-wage workers, does not have a comprehensive public structure for health services, has less progressive taxation overall, and has higher levels of inequality and poverty than do most of its high GNP counterparts. But with all of that, according to a 2008 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) analysis, the United States spent 31.1 percent of its net national disposable income on social welfare, a figure above the OECD countries’ average expenditure of 28.5 percent and ranking the United States in total social expenditure about on the same level as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, countries normally placed in the welfare-state category. This use of private spending and tax expenditures in the United States is quite distinctive. Add to this that the great bulk of public social-benefit expenditures in the United States are effectively “work based” (either requiring work for eligibility or in return for benefit) and what Neil Gilbert brilliantly dubs the “enabling” as opposed to the “welfare” state. In this way, the distinctive character of the United States welfare state becomes quite clear. Understanding this combination of reliance on private action, market allocation, and private expenditure and the American cultural, and policy-related, preference for work and employment over relief is central to understanding the strange architecture of American social welfare. That architecture is, of course, substantially influenced by the federal structure of American government and the regional and demographic diversity across the third-largest nation in the world.

General Overviews

The selections below are commonly utilized volumes inclusive of the major eras, policies, program developments, and people in US social welfare. Axinn and Stern 2005 and Trattner 1999 provide a rather comprehensive view from the emergence of state responsibility and poor law in England, through the American colonial and New Republic eras of public institutions and private relief organizations, and on through the Progressive Era, the New Deal, to the “modern” era of post-1960s work- and opportunity-focused programs. This last policy era is, of course, supported and sustained by the conservative transition in the 1980s ultimately leading to “welfare reform” and a distinctive move away from traditional relief models for the poor and toward work-based and incentive programs. Jansson 2008, too, is rather comprehensive in scope but organizes the material around the theme of American “reluctance” to embrace a more sustaining and humane social welfare system. Katz 1996 uses the idea of the “poorhouse” as the organizing construct for American social welfare and illustrates the persistence of the assumptions and intentions embedded in the poorhouse in 19th- and 20th-century America. Leiby 1978 incorporates both social welfare development and the rise of the social work profession and finds in both uniquely American expressions of faith in individual change and persistent concern about dependence and undermining individual responsibility. Marx 2004, too, offers a very broad historical view that provides context for exploring the American preference for private social welfare and the effective “partnership” that has emerged. Berkowitz and McQuaid 1992 is less concerned than the preceding works with the failures and limitations of American social welfare and more concerned with the economic structures and interests that shape American politics and are expressed in governmental policy. Herrick and Stuart 2005 provides a useful companion to this collection, with short descriptions of many of the people, organizations, and motivating ideas in American social welfare.

  • Axinn, June, and Mark Stern. 2005. Social welfare: A history of the American Response to need. 6th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    A commonly used text that covers social welfare development from the colonial to current periods. It is notable for its inclusion of selected documents that provide insight into the prevailing attitudes and problem constructions at the time.

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  • Berkowitz, Edward, and Kim McQuaid. 1992. Creating the welfare state: The political economy of 20th-century reform. Rev. ed. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

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    Among the very best texts on social welfare, taking the reader through 20th-century social policy development with a keen understanding of the role of economic interests in shaping policy. Considerable policy and program detail while illustrating, time and again, a rather practical, as opposed to ideological, policy process in which the interests of business combined with an elaborate public bureaucracy to create a disparate and uneven “welfare state.”

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  • Herrick, John M., and Paul H. Stuart, eds. 2005. Encyclopedia of social welfare history in North America. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    A compilation of 180 essays on the people, ideas, and organizations important in the development of social welfare in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Entries have references to primary sources.

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  • Jansson, Bruce S. 2008. The reluctant welfare state: Engaging history to advance social work practice in contemporary society. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Brooks-Cole.

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    The newest edition of another commonly used historical text, this one placing emphasis on understanding the underlying values and assumptions expressed in American social welfare history. The origins of those values are found largely in early American experience. Emphasis as well on the development of a student’s “policy identity.”

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  • Katz, Michael B. 1996. In the shadow of the poorhouse: A social history of welfare in America. 10th ed. New York: Basic Books.

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    A well-written and intellectually focused criticism of American social policy toward the poor, organized around the author’s construct of both the idea and the reality of the poorhouse in the early United States. The original fall from grace is followed by a series of fits and starts that result in the “semi-welfare state” and ultimately a “war on welfare.” Katz provides considerable historical and policy detail and a solid conceptual framework that distinguishes between public assistance and social insurance in both design and political impact.

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  • Leiby, James. 1978. A history of social welfare and social work in the United States, 1815–1972. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    A classic work relating the evolution of both social welfare policy and the development of the social work profession to the “progress” of American society in becoming economically powerful and stable, more homogeneous in population and more “middle class” in culture. Leiby, writing in the 1970s, sees the political currents, liberal and conservative, as less defining elements of social welfare than the more enduring and penetrating ones of culture and economic structure.

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  • Marx, Jerry D. 2004. Social welfare: The American partnership. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    A comprehensive social policy text organized around the public/private partnership aspect of American social welfare. Develops a complex picture of relationships between government, business, and the nonprofit and foundation world, and examines their policy and political implications.

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  • Trattner, Walter I. 1999. From poor law to welfare state: A history of social welfare in America. 6th ed. New York: Free Press.

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    A standard text in the field first published in 1974 and updated through 1999, providing a historical overview of developments in child welfare, public health, benefits for the poor, and the evolution of professional social work. The author is particularly interested in, and critical of, social and intellectual trends in American history that shape social policy and the politics of policy making.

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Understanding the American Social Welfare Model

Entries in this section have been selected for the theoretical or conceptual theme that organizes the work and thus creates a context for understanding the character and evolution of American social welfare. Each entry contributes to an “explanation” of the American model either by illuminating the intellectual elements that undergird social policy or by examining particular social, economic, or political structures influencing the American pattern of welfare. Alesina and Glaeser 2004, as a case in point, explains the “world of difference” in European and American social policy as a product of American population diversity and federal governmental structure. Esping-Andersen 1990 categorizes the types of social welfare regimes in the high-GDP world and finds them reflective of national culture and experience. Gilbert and Gilbert 1989 and Gilbert 2002, again, describe the “transformation” of American social policy from a pale and disparate reflection of a “welfare state” into a distinctive and aggressive “enabling state.” Hacker 2003 provides related detail regarding the “divided” public and private sectors of American social welfare. Himmelfarb 1984, Himmelfarb 1991, and Muller 1995 illustrate the persistent influence of the British intellectual tradition on American social welfare, both left and right, and describe the intellectual basis of the Anglo-American social welfare tradition. Skocpol 1992 documents the late-19th-century emergence of American social benefits for soldiers, and later mothers, and argues that worthiness of recipience is key to understanding United States social welfare. Wilensky and Lebeaux 1965 provides a classic construction of American social welfare as constrained by, and in effective partnership with, industrial capitalism.

  • Alesina, Alberto, and Edward Glaeser. 2004. Fighting poverty in the US and Europe: A world of difference. Rodolfo Debenedetti Lectures. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Locates the differences between the United States and Europe less in collectivism and capitalism and more in factors well noted in social policy circles: race and ethnic diversity and the federal governmental structure that empowers states and impedes national purpose. These factors effectively prevent the European “solidarity” model of social policy and disaggregate political coalitions and legislative processes.

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  • Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    An effort to classify the welfare models in Western countries into categories: social democratic regimes (Sweden, for example) that emphasize solidarity and equality; liberal regimes (United States and Canada, for example) in which social welfare is residual, always secondary to market allocation; and conservative regimes (Germany and the Rhenish states), which are comprehensive in coverage but are largely reinforcing of socioeconomic structure. The categories may not be entirely satisfying, but the discussion of the character of the various national welfare systems makes it all worthwhile.

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  • Gilbert, Neil. 2002. Transformation of the welfare state: The silent surrender of public responsibility. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    As its title implies, this volume is a critical analysis of privatization, broadly constructed, and the decline of a defined public purpose and governmental service capacity in the United States.

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  • Gilbert, Neil, and Barbara Gilbert. 1989. The enabling state: Modern welfare capitalism in America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Describes in detail the dramatic shift of American social policy, post-1960, from an “institutional” American social welfare system designed for protection against job loss, the consequence of aging, and the possibility of poverty to an “enabling” model of policy emphasizing work-based benefits, tax supports for work and child care, increased educational support, and the provision of human and social services through market mechanisms.

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  • Hacker, Jacob. 2003. The divided welfare state: The battle over public and private social benefits in the United States. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    An insightful and detailed analysis of the extent to which the United States has relied on private sources to develop a structure of health, pension, and other benefits, the total cost of which equals or exceeds the expenditures of many traditional “welfare states.”

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  • Himmelfarb, Gertrude. 1984. The idea of poverty: England and the early industrial age. New York: Knopf.

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    The first of two volumes (along with Himmelfarb 1991) that detail the ideas and impact of major British thinkers in shaping the concept of poverty and the intellectual structure of its analysis. From Smith through Burke and Bentham to Carlyle and Booth, the author examines in delightful detail both the ideas and the characters involved in the transition from “pauperism” and the regulatory horror of the Benthamite workhouse to the late-19th-century beginnings of “social science” and the outlines of modern social policy.

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  • Himmelfarb, Gertrude. 1991. Poverty and compassion: The moral imagination of the late Victorians. New York: Knopf.

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    A focus here on the ideas and contributions of T. H. Green, Alfred Marshall, and ultimately G. B. Shaw, the Webbs, Fabianism, Toynbee Hall, and the Charity Organization Society. Describes a spirit of “compassion” in the era but regrets the consequent deemphasis of individual moral responsibility and proliferation of the idea of poverty as inequality. Again, Himmelfarb’s colorful and thorough treatment of the characters and the times is not to be missed.

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  • Muller, Jerry Z. 1995. Adam Smith in his time and ours: Designing the decent society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Here Smith is not the champion of greed but the moral philosopher concerned with creating “civilizing” virtues in society. Free markets and free persons are central expressions of Smith’s “natural liberty” and its ability to produce both opportunity and a more open social order with fewer barriers of class, origin, and nationality. The work of Smith, along with the “natural rights” work of Locke and the utilitarianism of Bentham, would form the moral intellectual foundation for a social welfare based on individual responsibility, the moral importance of work, the utilization of stigma, and a distrust of collectivism and centralized government.

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  • Skocpol, Theda. 1992. Protecting soldiers and mothers: The political origins of social policy in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Belknap .

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    Documents the early, pioneering emergence of social benefits for veterans and mothers during the late 19th and early 20th century and demonstrates the power of “worthiness” in guiding social welfare politics and public support. Answers a question of interest to social welfare scholars as to why the United States was late in developing national welfare programs and why the programs that did arise created a vast divide in the structure and level of benefit between the poor and the large majority of citizens.

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  • Wilensky, Harold, and Charles Lebeaux. 1965. Industrial Society and Social Welfare. New York: Free Press.

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    A classic discussion of the development of American social welfare in the context of what is termed “the culture of capitalism”; also discusses the emergence of an industrial order that inevitably moves American politics and social policy to reflect the competing interests of labor and capital.

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Historical Documents and Data

Included here are a number of web-accessible sources providing the student with primary materials pertinent to American social welfare programs and policy. Mintz 2007 provides a comprehensive multimedia history of the United States from the Revolution forward with a strong social development theme. The University of Virginia’s Miller Center site provides the scholar with fascinating insights into the role, and personality, of six modern-era presidents as they deal with public policy matters. Social Security Online maintains a history site with both a general history of social insurance in the United States and extensive access to multimedia materials. The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute provides a collection of materials on the Great Depression and, of course, on the Roosevelts. The Introduction to Social Policy website offers brief but substantive material on key topics, issues, and history of social policy development with extensive links. The University of Minnesota Library’s Social Welfare History Archives, initiated by historian Clarke Chambers, is the first and still most extensive collection of materials on social service development in the United States. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2008 is the very best source of international comparative data on social welfare expenditures and, to a degree, impacts among high GDP nations. The US Library of Congress maintains a “Memory Project” with extensive primary materials pertinent to social development. And, finally, the US Census Bureau provides online accessible historical statistics including statistical abstracts from the 1870s on and special publications of historical data.

Especially Notable Social Policy Developments

Included here are materials that illustrate what might be called “prominent social policy failures.” Kevles 1995 describes the origins and impact of eugenics; Rothman 1971 details the fascinating story of institutions, including almshouses for the poor; Timberlake 1963 links the Progressive movement, with its emphasis on social planning and rational control, to American prohibition; Rainwater 1970 details the effective horror of large-scale public housing, and Schwartz 2006 discusses housing policy transition driven by the earlier failures. While this is hardly a comprehensive list of what might be regarded as failures, in every case these illustrate important aspects of American values as they apply to social development: the application of “science” to social problems, the faith that humans are sufficiently plastic that controlling environments will render permanent change, and the view that collective support for individual moral restraint may be effective social reform. We think of the United States as “conservative” in social policy, but each of these examples indicates a willingness to pursue a radical departure and dramatic disruption of ordinary lives in the name of “progress.”

  • Kevles, Daniel J. 1995. In the name of eugenics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Definitive work on a fascinating chapter in American social policy. Eugenics, based broadly on the social Darwinism of the late 19th century, and the cultural value placed on fitness and competition, promoted and implemented the sterilization of the “unfit.” Widely supported by the American scientific and social intelligentsia at that time, eugenics is now viewed as a horrible moral and scientific error. The specter of eugenics remains over modern developments in human genetics and continues to influence policy.

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  • Rothman, David. 1971. The discovery of the asylum: Social order and disorder in the new republic. Boston: Little, Brown.

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    From 1810 to 1850, social policy for the poor, criminal, and mentally ill was largely organized around the idea of institutionalization. The penitentiary, the asylum, and the almshouse, to the Jacksonian mind, were expressions of optimism that a planned environment could change the individual. Explores the operations of such institutions, the extensive public and private commitment involved, the essentially American faith in human transformation, and the ultimate disappointment. Perhaps no era of American social policy so reveals the combination of pragmatism, the desire for industrial-engineered solutions, and the cultural commitment to human plasticity and change.

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  • Timberlake, James H. 1963. Prohibition and the Progressive movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Demonstrates that Prohibition was not simply an odd reactionary moment in American governmental life, but an essential and integral expression of Progressive moralism and social planning. Along the way, a good review of the substance of prohibitionist thinking and the “marketing” of these ideas to generate political support.

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  • Rainwater, Lee. 1970. Behind ghetto walls: Black families in a federal slum. Chicago: Aldine.

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    Rainwater’s book is a sociological analysis of St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe project, an iconic example of public housing gone wrong and destroyed in 1972.

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  • Schwartz, Alex F. 2006. Housing policy in the United States: An introduction. New York: CRC.

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    Provides an accessible review of housing policy development and its transition from “public” housing to a strong preference for market dynamics and the use of incentives to encourage private actors to achieve public purposes in low-income housing policy.

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Social Work and Social Welfare

Central to America’s response to the problem of the poor and dependent was the invention of “professional” social work. After all, a profession is a body of persons with special training and knowledge committed to the public good through public licensure. As such, in medicine, law, engineering, and the clergy, professionals could be delegated considerable responsibility and given much autonomy in dealing with people and problems. So it would be in social work. These works examine the rationale for, and central ideas of, social intervention, and the development of the profession. Chambers 1967 documents the continued expansion of American social services and the related social reform associations at the state and local level after World War I. It is in this context that the social work profession likewise expanded. Davis 1968 explores the terribly important Settlement House movement and its impact on Progressive Era thinking. Ehrenreich 1985 provides what is still the best exploration of the relationship between American social policy and the character of professional social work. The author characterizes social work as “obsessive” about acceptance and professional status and is, consequently, torn between social reform and activism and the development of a clinical profession based in human behavior theory and a construct of “treatment.” Lowe and Reid 1999 provides additional detail regarding social work professional development in a collection that explores the rendering of poverty as an individually “treatable” condition. Lubove 1965 details the transition of volunteer social work to professional, compensated employment between 1889 and 1930. Walkowitz 1999 uses social work as a case in point in the emergence of an American middle class and explores the conflicts and contradictions in professionalizing services for the poor and dependent. The entries here, taken together, demonstrate that the development and advocacy of professionalized services would profoundly impact American social policy toward the poor, and the development of professional social work would be a primary “policy” response to issues of poverty, child welfare, and mental health.

  • Chambers, Clarke. 1967. Seedtime of reform: American social service and social action 1918–1933. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    Demonstrates that while post–World War I America turned away from the zeal of Progressive domestic reforms, the Progressive programs, and related professions, in public welfare, public health, and community planning, nevertheless continued the work of social reform at the state and local levels in the areas of housing, economic security, and public works, thus laying the foundation for the development of much-expanded federal responsibility in the 1930s.

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  • Davis, Allen F. 1968. Spearheads of reform: The social settlements and the Progressive movement 1890–1914. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An examination of the relationship between the urban Settlement House movement and the Progressive movement broadly. Focusing on the ideas embedded in the settlement house and the “Peace Corp”–like experience of settlement volunteers, Davis documents the emergence and dissemination of a social reform agenda that would dominate the American 20th century.

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  • Ehrenreich, John. 1985. The altruistic imagination: A history of social work and social policy in the United States. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

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    Presents social policy in the United States as a struggle between collective security urges, based largely in the urgings of organized labor, and the high individualism and antigovernmentalism in American society. The latter elements have, through the effective political organization of “capitalism,” dominated, and American social policy is thus diminished. The portions of the book that deal with the emergence and shaping of the social work profession in the context of this larger social policy drama make this work distinctive. As an example, Freudian-diagnostic social work practice in conflict with the Rankian Functionalists is discussed in a way that illustrates the great tension between social reform and social treatment.

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  • Lowe, Gary, and Nelson Reid, eds. 1999. The professionalization of poverty: Social work and the poor in the 20th century. Modern Applications of Social Work. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

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    A collection of entries from major social work contributors detailing the transition of the issue of the poor from individual moral failure to a problem to be dealt with through professional services designed to effectively “treat” it. The “professionalization” of poverty and the associated creation of the social work profession was part of the American alternative to embracing the class-based constructs of the “welfare state.”

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  • Lubove, Roy. 1965. The professional altruist: The emergence of social work as a career 1880–1930. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    This classic volume explores the conundrum of the transition from charitable, volunteer, morally convicted work for the poor to compensated, knowledge-based professional service. Lubove deals with the critical period in social work’s development when the inherent conflicts of charity organization work and settlement reforms were put aside in the effort to establish a recognized, higher education–linked, and knowledge-based profession.

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  • Walkowitz, Daniel. 1999. Working with class: Social workers and the politics of middle class identity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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    Examines the invention of social work as an occupation and its struggle for “professional” status. Beginning with the Progressive Era, dominated by ideas of scientific management and planned social intervention, professionalization became the means to overcome marginal status and gain respectability in a new and increasingly feminized job market. Walkowotz uses social work as an example of the increased striving for middle-class status and identity and poses the question of what constitutes success in American society.

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20th Century Social Welfare

American social welfare history has some rather evident points of departure in policy development. The modern era of American policy begins with the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th century. It is the Progressive period that establishes an idea of a moral purpose of government in regard to collective social welfare—a clear move from seeing poverty as a social condition rather than as an individual failure. It is the Progressives who invented the term “public interest” and argued that the authority of government is derived from it. Indeed, the bulk of the agenda of social development that dominated the 20th century, from race and gender to public health and slum clearance, was developed before 1915. A substantial and pivotal part of that agenda involved the establishment of social insurance as a model of social provision as opposed to charity, public or private. The idea of social insurance is a simple one: individuals in industrial society are subject to threats to personal welfare (unemployment, aging beyond utility, death of a breadwinner, industrial accident) that cannot be regarded as moral failure. It makes sense, then, to collectivize such risks and to provide benefits not through an intrusive and stigmatizing charitable process but rather as a right of an “invested” citizen. The idea of social insurance would manifest itself initially as social benefits at the state level, such as with Mother’s Aid or Workman’s Compensation, but would ultimately, in the context of the Great Depression of the 1930s, move to the national level in the form of the 1935 Social Security Act. The Social Security Act would be the single most important expression of social policy in the United States, and it would create an architecture of American social welfare that would lead to a rather generous national, low-stigma, “entitlement” structure of retirement, health, and disability benefits for the working middle classes and a paltry, state-level, high-stigma, and administrative-hassle set of benefits for the poor. This two-tiered structure of benefits would become problematic and create widespread political support at the national level for “social security” and subject the poor, often a voiceless minority, to one political assault on the “welfare class” after another. The post–World War II economic expansion, and the increased urbanization and industrialization of America, created both a new visibility of poverty and want and, because of much African-American migration to America’s industrial centers, a new national concern with race. Thus, the postwar civil rights movement would effectively blend with a new recognition of “the other America” in the 1950s and 1960s. The combination produced an emphasis on opportunity and breaking down barriers that prevented the poor and minorities from enjoying the full promise of American life. If the problem of poverty involved social and political exclusion, the “welfare state” model of defined social benefits was not the answer, and so the “war on poverty” period of policy development ensued, dominated by the ideas of opportunity and social reform. Initially this involved considerable emphasis on “maximum feasible participation” and activist organization of the poor at the community level, but over time the emphasis on reform would be dulled and the emphasis on opportunity would become focused on work. An emerging conservative political agenda, expressed initially in the Nixon years, would move America dramatically toward expansion of work-based and work-enhancement programs from the Earned Income Tax Credit in the 1970s, through the Family Support Act of 1988, to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Welfare Reform in the mid-1990s.

Progressive Policy

As noted earlier, Progressive-Era social policy established an intellectual framework, and to some extent a programmatic one, that would shape the entire century of American social welfare development. Croley 1911, which had a singularly notable influence on Progressive thought, explores the meaning of an America changed in the latter half of the 19th century by immigration, industrialization, and internal war. The author defines the Progressive perspective on social development with “democracy” as the engine of progress. DeSchweinitz 1943, a widely read work, explains to Americans the English casting off of old Poor Law and the ultimate embrace of the principles that would be codified through the Beveridge Report. Fine 1956 explores the central, and perpetual, conflict in United States political thought between limited and localized government and a strong central government with worldwide responsibility. Gordon 1994 details the emergence of Mother’s Aid and the development of AFDC, with great attention given to many notable Progressive reformers. Hacsi 1997 provides a useful and corrective look at “orphanages”, one of the most prominent forms of social care for needy children in American life. Hofstadter 1944 and Hofstadter 1955 explore the influential, indeed controlling, social construct of the late 19th century, social Darwinism, and then the very different ideas of American reformers in the first third of the 20th century.

  • Croley, Herbert. 1911. The promise of American life. New York: Macmillan.

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    American democracy, because of its structure and extent of diverse participation, holds the promise of creating a society that would widely share opportunities and benefits. Views democracy as not only a governmental form and process but as a cultural element expressing America’s essential instinct for equality. The author details a model of Progressive government with largely urban/labor related issues as its focus and along the way discusses the differences between a Jefferson/Hamilton agrarian democracy and centralized government, a debate that is central to understanding American political development.

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  • DeSchweinitz, Karl. 1943. England’s road to Social Security; From the Statute of Laborers to the Beveridge Report of 1942. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    A book aimed at the post-Progressive American social welfare academic community, widely read and cited, reviewing six centuries of England’s struggles with effective laws to deal with poverty.

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  • Fine, Sidney. 1956. Laissez-faire and the general-welfare state: A study of conflict in American thought 1865–1901. History and Political Science 22. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    Not sympathetic to laissez-faire, a very readable and useful survey of what may be regarded as the central intellectual problem in American government. Included is a wide range of ideas, persons, and policies pertinent to Progressive development.

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  • Gordon, Linda. 1994. Pitied but not entitled: Single mothers and the history of welfare, 1890–1935. New York: Free Press.

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    A finely composed history of the origins of Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) in the 1935 Social Security Act begins with the Progressive Era campaign for Mothers’ Aid and traces the subsequent developments through the 1920s and to the creation of Aid to Dependent Children. Makes clear the conceptual distinction between “public assistance” and “social insurance,” but shows how the two are muddled operationally and in the writing of policy and law. A central point is that ADC and its predecessors, originally constructed as “child welfare” programs, were justified on the basis of a view of motherhood as full-time work. Reformers, including Julia Lathrop and the Abbotts, mounted a campaign to establish the legal duty of the state to aid “deserving” single mothers and their children at home, rather than removing the children to institutions or providing services that were supportive of work and child care.

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  • Hacsi, Timothy A. 1997. Second home: Orphan asylums and poor families in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    A rather comprehensive look at “orphanages” in America from 1880 to the Depression. Hacsi finds in these institutions a humanity of intention and operation that flies in the face of much contemporary criticism of such institutions as culturally insensitive and cruel in reformist intensity. It is the protection of children, the inculcation of a basic education, and commonplace moral principles that are the organizing elements for Hacsi’s asylums, which are situated in a world less critical of motive and less suspicious of authority.

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  • Hofstadter, Richard. 1944. Social Darwinism in American thought, 1860–1915. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    Hofstadter details the impact of social Darwinist thought on American social welfare policy and services. The linkage of American culture and social structure to the widespread appeal of social Darwinism is brilliantly explored.

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  • Hofstadter, Richard. 1955. The age of reform: From Bryan to FDR. New York: Knopf.

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    A Pulitzer Prize–winning work that is distinguished by its emphasis on the ideas and beliefs that have characterized American reform efforts. Covering the late-19th-century Populists through the Progressives and on to New Deal reformers, Hofstadter details the similarities and differences among these groups and the transition of reform ideas from an agrarian American to an industrial, more urban one.

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Notable Persons in Progressive Period

The Progressive movement was quite broadly based, encompassing the arts, literature, and the organization of the academy, as well as governmental process and policy. There is considerable biographical trade in individuals associated with Progressivism, from Dewey to La Follette, Teddy Roosevelt, and Wilson. Included below are those with particular relevance for social welfare. Crunden 1982 provides a useful intellectual history of Progressivism organized around a raft of notable individuals and locates the motivation of Progressives in the effort to move from traditional Protestantism to a secular, scientific, but equally true-believing, doctrine. No one is more associated with Progressive social thought than Jane Addams. Elshtain 2002 explores and defends Jane Addams and the legacy of Hull House, a Progressive shrine. Lasch 1965 and Farrell 1967, from somewhat different frameworks, explore the life and thought of Addams. Finally, Waugh 1998 explores the thought and work of Josephine Shaw Lowell, who perhaps was not a Progressive in either time or fully in spirit, but was one whose ideas and work in the charity organizations would have great influence, in reaction, on Progressives. Lowell was the intellectual power behind the Charity Organization Society in the United States and something of a nemesis to the Settlement House crowd.

  • Crunden, Robert. 1982. Ministers of reform: The Progressives’ achievements in American civilization, 1889–1920. New York: Basic Books.

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    In a well-written and provocatively conceived volume, Crunden traces the origins of American Progressivism in the post–Civil War generation’s search for moral purpose, liberated from traditional Protestantism, but including the emotion and depth of conviction that a religious experience entails. Using more than a hundred prominent (and not so prominent) Progressives as examples, including Addams, William Jennings Bryan, John Commons, Robert La Follette, George H. Mead, Upton Sinclair, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, the author develops his thesis in the context of detail regarding the ideas of progressivism and its major accomplishments in government, higher education, the arts, and culture broadly.

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  • Elshtain, Jean Bethke. 2002. Jane Addams and the dream of American democracy. New York: Basic Books.

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    A detailed examination and defense of Addams’s consequential life both in terms of her intellectual contribution and the lasting legacy of Hull House. Pursues Addams’s motivation and purposes in opening Hull House in Chicago, through heavy reliance on Addams’s own writings. Extensive passages from her writings and speeches illustrate a sometimes unnerving degree of free thinking and willingness to pass quick and brutal judgment. Elshtain takes care to dismiss both the modern-day accusations of condescension and cultural insensitivity as well as Addams’s World War I–era defense of anarchists and pacifists.

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  • Farrell, John C. 1967. Beloved lady: A history of Jane Addams’ ideas on reform and peace. Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science 85.2. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

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    Addams was America’s first woman “public philosopher,” engaged with her contemporaries, who included G. H. Mead and Dewey, and this basic resource provides a broad account of the life and ideas of Addams and her role in shaping Progressive Era ideas as well as her reservations about American foreign policy.

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  • Lasch, Christopher, ed. 1965. The social thought of Jane Addams. American Heritage AHS69. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill.

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    A collection of Addams’s writings with commentary. Lasch, an important writer on American radicalism, explores through Addams the sort of “middle class”–based social criticism that Progressives represented. One of the first writers on American political thought to acknowledge the effective power of the new middle class in postagrarian politics.

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  • Waugh, Joan. 1998. Unsentimental reformer: The life of Josephine Shaw Lowell. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Lowell (b. 1843–d. 1905), through her work in the Charity Organization Society, sought to rationalize charity toward the poor even in the context of social Darwinist thinking. She invented “scientific charity” and thus established the basis for the professionalization of social casework. She was “unsentimental” in that she understood the “moral hazard” problem inherent in charity and refused to romanticize the poor as hapless and powerless in their own lives. Her writing and speeches incorporate the struggle between social reform and individual “treatment” that characterized American social work.

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Social Security and the New Deal Influence

While the period after World War I and the 1920s had been one of general American prosperity, and a continuation of essentially Progressive social policy and programming at the state level, the Great Crash of 1929 and the rapid decline of the economy over the next few years produced one of the most profound governmental changes in American history. Franklin Roosevelt, elected in a landslide in 1932, came to power promising a “New Deal” to millions of Americans facing unemployment, the loss of their homes, and poverty at unprecedented levels. Over the next several years, the role of the federal government relative to the states would grow dramatically, and American politics and the social welfare construct would never be the same. The most important of the many New Deal initiatives in shaping American social welfare architecture would be the Social Security Act of 1935. The fundamental aspect of that architecture would be the distinction embodied in the Social Security Act between social insurance and public assistance. Social insurance is a non-means-tested, work-based, low-stigma, payroll-tax-funded structure that would create a national age- or disability-based social benefit. Public-assistance provisions, on the other hand, provided federal funds for state programs of public charity, like Mother’s Aid (AFDC), that continued to be means tested, high stigma, and low benefit. The working (industrial, not agricultural) part of the population got a national “universal” benefit structure (and an immediate and large constituency of political support) and the poor received a continuation of poor law–like benefits, subject to the variations of state and often local sensibilities about the worthiness of the poor. This was a politically practical policy that development and created a popular system of “social security” for those who had “earned” it by virtue of work. However, it effectively politically segregated many of the poor into the much smaller, state-based system of public aid, providing benefits on the basis of need. Thus, the worthiness problem was solved on the social insurance side by the device of work-based contribution, but the problem continued for those who relied on public assistance. This system would prove to be a philosophical, administrative, legal, and programmatic problem. Social insurance grew in every sense to become a permanent feature of the American political and social landscape. Public assistance, particularly Aid to Families with Dependent Children, drew criticism, as did various welfare “reform” efforts from the beginning. Each of the entries in this section illustrates one or more of the important aspects or implications of the “social security model” of social benefits. Abramovitz 1988 explores the negative impact that the traditional social role of women has in influencing the structure of benefits. Berkowitz 2003 and Berkowitz, et al. 2007 provide a detailed look at the structure and political dynamics of social security and a volume of documents illustrating the evolution of the program and its administration. Lubove 1969 details the effort to establish the idea of social insurance and embody it in legislation. Marmor and Marmor 1973 provides a case study of the addition of Medicare in 1965, much of which will sound familiar to students of current policy struggles. Patterson 2000, written by a fine historian and writer, provides a compelling and ultimately encouraging story of the evolution of 20th-century policy toward the poor. Patterson 1997 explores in exhausting detail the critical 1945–1974 period in terms of the changing demography, economy, and race relations and finds the source of a generation’s optimism and belief in progress. Piven and Cloward 1972 does not find much evidence of progress in policy toward the poor, in a widely influential volume that casts American social benefits for the poor as a new form of industrial slavery. Stein 1998 seeks to explain the failure of the American labor movement after World War II to gain much political power, and thus a weak commitment to a national economic policy that would have much benefited the poor.

  • Abramovitz, Mimi. 1988. Regulating the lives of women: Social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. Boston: South End.

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    A feminist critic of American social welfare policy, the author argues that the traditional and limiting role of women, derived from the family, is reflected in social benefit policy—AFDC, for example. The risk of poverty is the result, as policy reflects social traditions that anchor the place and identity of women in the family and not in the larger economy. American policy effectively “regulates” women, holding them in traditional roles, and has done so consistently from colonial times forward.

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  • Berkowitz, Edward. 2003. Robert Ball and the politics of social security. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    This volume, along with Berkowitz’s biography of Wilbur Cohen, provide not only an effective primer on the basics of social insurance but also a keen insight into the internal workings of Washington politics and bureaucracy.

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  • Berkowitz, Edward, Larry DeWitt, and Daniel Beland. 2007. Social Security: A documentary history. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly.

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    Filled with primary sources, each with explanation and analysis, from 1935 to the early 21st century.

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  • Lubove, Roy. 1969. The struggle for Social Security 1900–1935. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    This volume details the effort to establish the ideas of social insurance, first in the form of workmen’s compensation, widow’s aid, and unemployment assistance, as acceptable in an America steeped in individualism, volunteerism, and a vague social Darwinism. Lubove examines this clash of ideals through the Progressive policy period, the state-level activism of the 1920s, and the Social Security movement during the decade of the New Deal.

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  • Marmor, Theodore, and Jan S. Marmor. 1973. The politics of Medicare. Chicago: Aldine.

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    An effective and illuminating case study of the development of Medicare in 1965 and the political and policy machinations necessary to tackle one of the most perplexing of America’s social policy arenas.

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  • Patterson, James T. 1997. Grand expectations: The United States, 1945–1974. Oxford History of the United States. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This Bancroft Prize–winning volume covers the critical postwar period in America not chronologically but thematically: civil rights, Cold War, and population and economic shifts. Patterson is among the most culturally astute historians and has a keen interest in social welfare.

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  • Patterson, James T. 2000. America’s struggle against poverty in the twentieth century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Perhaps the most readable and comprehensive narrative on modern American social-policy history available. Patterson describes, in considerable policy and political detail, the fascinating dynamics of American politics and policy making from the Progressive Era and Mother’s Aid in the 1910s to welfare reform in the 1990s, with a considerable part of the book devoted to the New Deal and to Social Security and its centrality to American social welfare.

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  • Piven, Frances Fox, and Richard A. Cloward. 1972. Regulating the poor: The functions of public welfare. New York: Vintage.

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    A strong and widely read critique of the public aid programs for the poor created in the Social Security Act. The analysis, from a social conflict/social control perspective, finds in such programs a system designed to manage the poor in a fashion that optimizes the availability of low-wage labor. Focusing on AFDC, but clearly having a broadly critical perspective, the argument is that social benefits expand during economic downturn, to suppress discontent, and contract during better times to push the poor into low-wage employment. Ironically, the decade prior to publication had witnessed an expansion of social benefits during economic expansion and low unemployment rates. Nevertheless, the argument fit the times and the increasingly class-based politics of welfare, and has thus continued to be attractive to many.

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  • Stein, Judith. 1998. Running steel, running America: Race, economic policy, and the decline of liberalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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    Stein’s fascinating argument is that America’s weak industrial policy after World War II, encouraging low-cost steel through international competition, effectively weakened organized labor politically. The United States, then, did not have the labor-based politics or the social policies we associate with European labor-government regimes. This “de-industrializing” of America, the author holds, continued in the 1960s and had a great impact on America’s understanding of the issues of civil rights and poverty. The War on Poverty was a weak substitute for a national economic policy, which might have dealt with technological change in agriculture and automation in manufacturing, the areas of change that produced rapid rural minority migration to cities and to increased social conflict and economic competition within the working class.

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“New” Welfare and the War on Poverty

The election of John Kennedy in 1960 initiated a major thematic shift in American social welfare. Kennedy, in part due to a closely contested West Virginia primary in the closing part of his effort to win the Democratic nomination, did have something of a domestic agenda related to poverty and economic development in regions like Appalachia. But it would be the rapidly developing civil rights movement that would command attention to domestic matters and would dramatically influence the definition of poverty in the United States and the direction of policy to reduce it. Kennedy would be murdered in 1963, and he would leave to his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, a pending civil rights bill, an emerging antipoverty strategy designed by a White House task force, and a few notable social welfare accomplishments. Kennedy had passed the Manpower Development and Training Act in 1962 and established the Area Redevelopment Agency in 1961. The former created the first jobs program since the New Deal, and the latter led to the Appalachian Regional Commission and other programs for “depressed areas.” These represented a nascent emphasis on opportunity and development, an emphasis that would be greatly expanded as the movement for social and civil rights for African Americans strengthened. Indeed, this commitment to expanding opportunity became the prevailing policy perspective. Poverty was understood as a product of social, economic, and political opportunity structures that were closed to many Americans and could be corrected through “community action” and efforts to break down barriers to inclusion and sharing of power. Poverty, in this view, would not be permanently ameliorated through the “old” welfare and its reliance on traditional transfer programs. “Welfare” was a hard sell politically, and the American way would be to create a social and economic structure open to all. The Johnson administration, then, even with a strong Democratic Congress, did not seek to make the structure of cash social benefits for the poor more generous but focused, instead, on a social reform strategy that would break down barriers to “opportunity.” Johnson had continued the Kennedy task force on poverty and in 1964 proposed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA), an ambitious program that called on communities to organize themselves to fight poverty and to design programs that would be suited to their particular needs. Based on the Ford Foundation’s Grey Areas project, especially Mobilization for Youth in New York City, the EOA allowed cities to establish Community Action Boards as nonprofit agencies and allowed these boards to submit proposals that would be funded by the Office of Economic Opportunity. The innovations were numerous, but most important were the bypassing of city governments in favor of direct funding of citizens’ groups and the requirements for “maximum feasible participation” by poor people, meaning representation on agency boards, the hiring of poor people for staff positions, and attempts to “mobilize” them for community action. The community action programs were controversial for all these reasons and by 1966 were tamed by new requirements for the involvement of public officials and oversight by the state governments. Nevertheless, the idea that poverty was a product of limited opportunity and inadequate representation of poor citizens in community decision making was influential and led to requirements for citizen participation in governmental programs in many areas of public services and policy. The entries that follow relate to one aspect or another of this quite dramatic and influential period of social policy development. Galbraith 1998 was widely influential in the Kennedy administration, pointing to the private wealth but public paucity of the United States; but it would be the graphic depiction of poverty by Harrington 1962 that would grip a wide audience. O’Connor 2001 details the relationship between changing social constructs of poverty and the academic social sciences that would eagerly provide the supportive data and theoretical framework. Kaplan and Cuciti 1986, a collection of essays by those involved, provides insight into the thinking of the time. Karger and Stoesz 2009, an extensive overview of American social welfare, has a particularly clear take on the meaning of the War on Poverty and its relationship to the post-1960s pattern of “conservative” market-based social policy. Moynihan 1969 provides a stinging criticism of the idea of “community action” as a means to end poverty and provides a short primer on the value of old-fashioned transfer payments. Moynihan 1973 recounts the author’s version of the Nixon administration’s nearly successful effort to reform welfare and along the way provides much insight into why it would take twenty-five more years to do so. Unger 1996 provides a useful and balanced perspective on the War on Poverty as an expression of both political reality and American cultural preferences.

  • Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1998. The affluent society. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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    In one sense an exploration of the “dismal science” and its perverse (from Galbraith’s point of view) effect on American faith in government. Valuable for its intellectual and historical reach and its descriptions of the vast inequalities in American life by region and social place. The new, and quite eloquent, introduction by Galbraith in the 1998 edition notes especially the dramatic increase in income inequality in the United States and the continued starvation of the public sector from education, health care, and parks and recreation to law enforcement.

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  • Harrington, Michael. 1962. The other America: Poverty in the United States. New York: Macmillan.

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    Harrington, in a widely read and particularly influential book, describes with human detail and journalistic drama the other side of the post–World War II “affluent” society. Describing through vignettes life in the southern Appalachians, urban ghettos, and elsewhere, the book details the extent of poverty, provides examples of a poverty subculture, and reveals the utter inadequacy of the American social welfare system at the time.

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  • Kaplan, Marshall, and Peggy Cuciti, eds. 1986. The Great Society and its legacy: 20 years of U.S. Social Policy. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

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    A collected volume providing retrospective views from many of those notably involved in shaping 1960s-era policy and programs. Emphasizing that the great society meant “an end to poverty and racial injustice,” the volume makes clear the rationale for pursuing a social reform as opposed to an income transfer policy toward the poor.

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  • Karger, Howard J., and David Stoesz. 2009. American social welfare policy: A pluralist approach with Research Navigator. 6th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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    A comprehensive coverage of the complex and disaggregated US social welfare picture, particularly expressive of the complex model of public and private elements involved. Articulate in its explanation of the cultural and political forces that have shaped the “enabling state” character of US social policy. Broadly incorporates theory from sociology, political science, economics, and human behavior, and is both balanced and substantive in its description of the conflict of values and ideology in the United States.

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  • Moynihan, Daniel. 1969. Maximum feasible misunderstanding: Community action in the War on Poverty. New York: Free Press.

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    Moynihan embraces the goals of the War on Poverty but rejects the idea that social reform will come through organization of the poor for social conflict modeled on American labor history. The book reviews both the origins of the idea of “community action” and its evolution through such projects as Mobilization for Youth in New York City.

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  • Moynihan, Daniel. 1973. The politics of a guaranteed income: The Nixon administration and the Family Assistance Plan. New York: Random House.

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    Moynihan, as Nixon’s urban affairs specialist, had convinced the president that a bold welfare-reform initiative was necessary to end the War on Poverty policy debacle and to finally create a national, work-incentive-based benefit structure for the poor. AFDC, in Moynihan’s view, was destroying poor families, and Nixon needed to be as bold on the domestic front as he had been with China. Nearly successful, the Family Assistance Plan failed in the summer of 1970. Moynihan tells the story in considerable policy and political detail. Ironically, the failure would lead to the Nixon-Ford-era development of the Earned Income Tax Credit, now the most important cash benefit for the poor in the United States.

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  • O’Connor, Alice. 2001. Poverty knowledge: Social science, social policy and the poor in 20th century U.S. history. Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Traces the study of poverty from moral, reform-minded inquiry to today’s detached, data-heavy analysis of the demographic and behavioral characteristics of the poor. Details the power of ideas in shaping the concepts and constructs that guide research, including “culture of poverty,” “tangle of pathology,” “underclass,” and the ultimate ascendancy of economic reasoning at the expense of the sociological and psychological. Provides an effective road map to the poverty research industry from its roots in the War on Poverty, with particularly good discussion of the “income maintenance experiments” initiated in the Johnson years.

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  • Unger, Irwin. 1996. The best of intentions: The triumph and failure of the Great Society under Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. New York: Doubleday.

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    Unger explores social policy in this period from a refreshingly nonconflictual “we try as hard as we can” sort of view. His fundamental argument that American social policy is not only mostly beneficial to the middle classes but is almost entirely derived from middle-class culture and social interests is insightful.

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Reagan, Conservatism, Clinton, and the “Enabling State”

The political shift represented by the 1980 presidential election proved profound and enduring. The Democratic coalition forged by FDR in 1932 had brought together a rural, agrarian South and urban, labor-based voters in a political union that effectively persisted for four decades. In the process, that political force created much of the basic elements of the American social welfare/benefit structure we have today. This New Deal coalition would control the policy agenda and the related terms of argument (despite the years of Republicans Eisenhower and Nixon), until the election of 1980 and the presidency of Ronald Reagan. But the new Reagan “coalition” would prove nearly as potent. Based on the decline of organized labor and the associated transition to a nonindustrial economic base, the emergence of middle-class concern with cultural as well as economic issues and the migration of southern white voters from the Democratic to the Republican camp, the new domestic policy themes would be “conservative.” Individualism, privatization, and federalism (meaning the reassertion of state-level power and the diminishment of central government) would become the bywords and would dominate the social policy agenda in the United States from 1980 to 2008. Reagan, of course, would be in one sense the most ideologically conservative president in the 20th century, but would also quite pragmatically “save” Social Security through the 1983 Greenspan Commission reforms and preside over not-inconsequential expansions of federal social welfare expenditures overall, even while reducing expenditures in some social service and means-tested benefits. A Democrat, William Clinton, would be president from 1993 to 2000, but the policy agenda, from NAFTA to Welfare Reform through the defeat of Clinton’s health plan, was clearly Republican in character. The result of this would be a strong policy preference for work-based programs, illustrated by the expansion of the Earned Incomes Tax Credit, the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, and the encouragement of state-level initiatives concerned with such things as teenage pregnancy and the promotion of marriage. The entries in this section explore aspects of this era. Achenbaum 1988 provides perspective on the persistence of the Social Security system and acknowledges the contribution of Reagan to its resilience. Anderson 1988, a Reagan aide, provides a cogent explanation of the policy orientation in the White House and is a readable account of many legislative efforts. Diggins 1992 explains a major factor in the American left’s effective collapse. Jencks 1992 discusses the complex relationship between a program evaluation–based model of effective government and the ideas that have currency and shape policy. Madrick 2009 details the historical American bias against strong national government. Murray 1984, a widely read volume, argues for the counterintuitive consequences of social policy. Peck 2001 discusses the emergence of the idea of “workfare” and the role of work requirements in modern policy. Skocpol 1996 provides an insightful analysis of the difficulty in shaping a national health care policy. Weaver 2000 details the dramatic and pivotal welfare reform of 1996.

  • Achenbaum, Andrew. 1988. Social Security: Visions and revisions. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A good general history of Social Security written during the Reagan-Greenspan reform period, with an especially good discussion of those reforms as a “new lease on life” for a troubled system.

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  • Anderson, Martin. 1988. Revolution: The Reagan legacy. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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    The head of the White House Office of Policy Development in the first years of the Reagan administration, Anderson details, from an insider’s view, the rational and the operational aspects of the first years of a pivotal administration in American social policy development.

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  • Diggins, John P. 1992. The rise and fall of the American left. New York: W. W. Norton.

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    Discusses the American political left from the late 19th century to recent times and illustrates the divisions that have prevented effective and sustained political advances. Along the way, the author profiles figures such as Eugene Debs, John Reed, Emma Goldman, Daniel DeLeon, Big Bill Haywood, Langston Hughes, and W. E. B. DuBois. Illustrates, again, that the American left has never been effectively organized around a labor base, as is typical in other high-GDP countries.

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  • Card, David, and Rebecca Blank, eds. 2000. Finding jobs: Work and welfare reform. New York: Russell Sage.

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    An excellent and substantive collection of works on the character of the low-wage labor market and the ability of social policy to influence labor-force participation. Can we provide jobs for the poor, and will it reduce poverty, and at what social cost?

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  • Howard, Christopher. 1999. The hidden welfare state. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Details the hundreds of billions of dollars of tax expenditures that subsidize homeownership, work, child care, and health insurance. Particularly useful in regard to the Earned Income Tax Credit and other work-related policies.

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  • Jencks, Christopher. 1992. Rethinking social policy: Race, poverty, and the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Argues that neither liberal nor conservative concepts are particularly helpful in addressing issues of race, class, and poverty. Describes poverty policy in the early 1980s as dominated by conservatives in reaction to the social programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Instead of “community action” and expanded entitlements, the mantra was economic growth, low taxes, and free markets that would create opportunity and incentive for the poor. Despite the economic expansion of the Reagan era, however, poverty proved persistent. Reviews authors influential in the transformation of American thought on poverty that would lay the foundation for welfare reform later, including Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson, Richard Herrnstein, and William J. Wilson. Jencks rightly predicts that Aid for Families with Dependent Children will be reformed to “reinforce rather than subvert” American cultural ideals about work and marriage.

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  • Madrick, Jeff. 2009. The case for big government. Public Square. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Discusses the strong historical bias against “big government” in the United States and suggests it may cripple the Obama administration’s more ambitious plans. Lays out an argument for a strong central government that can function as a guarantor for economic stability, opportunity, and well-being.

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  • Murray, Charles. 1984. Losing ground: American social policy 1950–1980. New York: Basic Books.

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    Murray’s argument is a familiar one to most students of social welfare: social benefit programs, however well intended, create effective incentives to engage in poverty-sustaining behavior, and the effect over time is to expand the poor and dependent class. He applies this perspective to the War on Poverty and later decades, finds dramatic increases in federal social-transfer expenditure, and concludes that poverty and social decline, especially among the “underclass,” increased. Extensive in scope, but sometimes casting the net too widely, it is nevertheless worth reading. A widely read work that greatly influenced the American conversation about social policy.

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  • Peck, Jamie. 2001. Workfare states. New York: Guilford.

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    An extensive review of the “offensive” to establish work requirements as elements in social-benefit eligibility in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The author sees this not as a way to create broader political support or to reduce the social and economic segregation of the poor (as most analysts do) but as a means to create “docile bodies” for a new economy that needs low-waged service workers.

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  • Skocpol, Theda. 1996. Boomerang: Clinton’s health security effort and the turn against government in United States politics. New York: W. W. Norton.

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    A brilliant and lucid analysis of the stickiest of policy issues. Argues that the Clinton health care reform effort was, ironically, pivotal in energizing a resurgent antigovernment and anti-tax right. In the process, Skocpol, methodically consistent, makes clear that effective and successful social policy in the United States recognizes the cultural, and political, preference for market allocation, disaggregated private actors as opposed to state-based services, and a clear moral (worthiness) basis for extension of benefits.

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  • Weaver, Kent. 2000. Ending welfare as we know it. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

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    Detailed review of the legislative and policy-development process in the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act ending AFDC and constructing a time-limited, work-based, block-funded (non-entitlement) program. Perhaps the most dramatic social policy development in the latter part of the 20th century; Weaver discusses in detail the many previous failed reform efforts. The strong lesson of “workfare,” on which reform was based, is that generating political support for social benefits depends on dealing directly with the “worthiness” issue, and the best way to establish worthiness is through work prior to or during receipt of benefits.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/25/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389678-0075

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