Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


James T. Patterson, The Welfare State in America, 1930-1980


James T. Patterson, The Welfare State in America, 1930-1980

BAAS Pamphlet No. 7 (First Published 1981)

ISBN: 0 9504601 7 6

  1. Welfare and Poverty in 1930
  2. The New Deal Establishes a Welfare State
  3. The Rediscovery of Poverty, 1960-1965
  4. The Revolution in Social Welfare, 1965-1975
  5. Floors as Well as Doors
  6. Guide to Further Reading
  7. Notes
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1: Welfare and Poverty in 1930

A central theme dominates the history of American poverty and public welfare: the poor received much abuse and little assistance. Their harsh treatment persisted into the 1960s, when a combination of social, economic, and political forces prompted a “rediscovery” of poverty, a vast expansion of social welfare programs, and a substantial reduction in the percentage of people officially defined as poor. Even then, however, most middle-class Americans continued to disparage the poor and to grope for ways to control the costs of public welfare. Their attitudes deeply affected political responses in the 1970s. By the early 1980s, therefore, liberal reformers conscious of the extent of poverty found their first priority was to prevent Congress from cutting back on the provision of welfare—when the real need, liberals felt, was to enact fundamental improvements in the jerry­built welfare system constructed in the 1930s.

Three cases suggest the cold way in which Americans treated poor people as late as 1933. The first, in New York State, involved a woman who had earlier established her right to poor relief in the city of Syracuse. She then married an immigrant who, after a journey to Canada, was denied re-entry to the United States. Penniless, the woman requested public assistance for her children and herself. The city refused, arguing that her marriage to an immigrant made her ineligible for relief. She received support only after extended legal efforts. The second, in Massachusetts, concerned the effort of the town of Plymouth to avoid aiding a young illegitimate girl. Because the girl’s mother had died, the town tried to force her grandfather to care for her. He refused, and a suit followed. After protracted maneuvering, the court held that neither the grandfather nor the town owed the girl help—by the seventeenth-century state law, an illegitimate child was legally the responsibility of no one! In the third case, a temporarily unemployed Maine man applied for aid. The town not only denied his claim but decreed that he was henceforth a “pauper” and therefore ineligible to vote.[1]

That was in the early 1930s. By then Germany had had a social insurance system for fifty years, Great Britain and Sweden for almost twenty-five. Most West European nations paid family allowances designed in part to help the poor. Though statistics are unreliable, contemporary observers were certain that the United States lagged far behind Europe in the size and coverage of its welfare payments, and in the spirit in which aid was provided. It had no social security (i.e., old age pensions), no unemployment insurance, no family allowances, no health insurance. Given the resources of the United States—by all odds the wealthiest nation in the world—the national government was strikingly inactive in the field of welfare.[2]

The country’s federal tradition partially explained this situation. At that time even progressives like Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York believed deeply in local experimentation and decentralized government. State and local governments, they thought, should supplement private charity in helping the needy. But states and towns, too, had done little in the field of welfare by 1933. No state had an unemployment insurance plan before 1932. Old age pension plans existed in only eleven states in 1929; these paid only $220,000 in pensions. Programs of aid to mothers and dependent children assisted 93,280 families in 1931, out of 3.8 million female-headed families in the United States. The average monthly grant for these assisted families ranged from a low of $4.33 in Arkansas to $69.31 in Massachusetts. That latter sum, coming to $832 per year, contrasted with the $2,000 that some economists then regarded as “sufficient to supply only basic necessities.”[3]

Other forms of aid, either “indoor relief” (in institutions) or “outdoor relief” (in the home), ordinarily came from the towns. Obviously, these local responses varied considerably. But most towns, like Syracuse and Plymouth, strove to minimize their costs. Relief officials at the local level were ordinarily elected or appointed by town officers. They rarely had any training in social work, or much sympathy for the poor. Many towns, moreover, kept on the books old poor laws that dated from the seventeenth century. These statutes resembled the Elizabethan poor laws of England. Applicants for relief ordinarily had to establish “settlement”—usually interpreted to mean continuous residence within the town for at least a year. The migrant poor were often “removed” forcibly to the towns from which they had come. Localities regularly denied aid even to needy people who had established settlement, dawdling on applications, humiliating and stigmatizing applicants, investigating the moral character of all who applied for help. Poor people who dared to complain rarely received hearings. Local officials were so anxious to limit their responsibilities that they resorted to suits against other cities that might be considered the places of settlement. The cost of litigation in such disputes in New York between 1928 and 1932 was $192,000—compared to the $215,000 that might have been spent to sustain the poor people involved during the time of legal action. During these years, 11,234 New Yorkers—more than 2,000 per year—were removed from one town to another as a result of such suits.[4]

Perhaps the best way to summarize the inadequacy of welfare at the time is to estimate the total dollars spent in 1929, a year of unprecedented prosperity in the United States. In that year, public spending on welfare—federal, state, and local—was around $500 million. This sum did not include aid to education (a local responsibility) or to veterans; it did include both indoor and outdoor relief. Private charity increased the grand total to around $750 million. Other statistics suggest that a maximum of 10 percent of the population of 122 million received help during any one year. Thus America in 1929 spent $6.25 per capita (or 0.73 percent of GNP) on helping some 12.2 million poor people, who received an average of $62.50 each.[5]

Given the comparative affluence of American society, it was of course arguable that there was no great need for welfare in the United States before the Great Depression. That was surely the view of the vast majority of Americans, and even of many economists and social scientists during the 1920s. The economic progress of that decade was astonishing and real. However one measured that progress—by the quality of diets, housing, availability of home appliances, spread of electricity and central heating—most Americans were much better off in 1929 than they had been in 1880 or 1900. In 1929 only 3.2 percent of the labor force was unemployed. By then, even working-class families could afford to buy cars. Most dramatic, perhaps, were improvements in health which were reflected in statistics on longevity. Life expectancy at birth was 47 years in 1900, 60 in 1930. There were 7 million Americans aged 55 or more in 1900, and 15 million in 1930. All these improvements prompted great optimism among contemporary observers, who tended to assume that economic growth would greatly enlarge the pie. It was therefore unnecessary to think about cutting it into more equal shares or to expand welfare. Herbert Hoover, reflecting this optimism, proclaimed in 1928, “We shall soon, with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished in the nation.”[6]

It was arguable also that poverty in the United States tended in the main to be short-term, related to life cycles in families. Most of America’s poor, it seemed, were members of working-class families that experienced privation only periodically—when the breadwinner was sick, when a recession threw him out of a job, when he had a household full of very young children to support, when he got old or disabled. Grim as their suffering was at these times, it was rarely chronic, and almost surely not culturally transmitted to the following generations. Moreover, by the 1920s poverty seemed to be fading away as the second and third generations of once poor immigrants moved up the occupational ladder and out of their urban ghettos. Observers who perceived poverty in this way were admittedly speculating, for they lacked reliable studies on the extent to which poverty was chronic or culturally transmitted. But subsequent historical research suggests that social mobility for working-class Americans at the time was indeed substantial. Probably at least 30 percent of workers raised in blue-collar households in various American cities in the early twentieth century attained middle-class occupational status between 1880 and 1930.[7]

Stereotypes of the poor also seemed to soften a little during the first third of the century. Prior to 1900, few writers on poverty had stressed that it was environmental. They had assumed that many—perhaps most—of the poor were “undeserving.” Some were thought to be members of the “dangerous classes,” others to be lazy, oversexed, and shiftless. Paupers (the undeserving who applied for relief) got almost no sympathy. Francis Walker, a professor who headed the United States Census, explained in 1897 that “pauperism is largely voluntary …. Those who are paupers are so far more from character than from condition. They have the pauper trait; they bear the pauper brand.”[8]

By 1929 such stereotyping was less common. During the Progressive era (1900-1917) and afterwards, writers such as Robert Hunter, Jacob Hollander, and Robert Kelso described poverty as an economic condition caused by low wages, underemployment, technological change, depressed trades (including agriculture), and the vicissitudes of the business cycle. They avoided racist talk about inferior immigrants or shiftless blacks. As Hollander explained in 1914, “neither race qualities nor national characteristics account for the presence of such poverty. It persists as an accompaniment of modern economic life, in widely removed countries among ethnically different people. It cannot be identified with alien elements in native race stocks.”[9]

It was clear, finally, that public welfare advanced a little in the years 1900-1930. During those years, states adopted workmens’ compensation plans and began their limited experiments with mothers’ and old-age pensions. Many states established departments of Social Welfare or Public Welfare. Social workers developed professional skills to help them with case work. And public spending, while low, nonetheless increased over time.

Still, these real gains between 1900 and 1930 could not disguise the persistence of widespread need in America even in the good year of 1929. In a slim volume put out by the Brookings Institution five years later, the authors estimated that 16 million families in the 1920s, about 60 percent of the total number, received less than $2,000 a year, an income “sufficient to supply only basic necessities.” That was at least 70 million people. Only about 25 percent of the nation’s non-farm families earned $3,000, the sum needed to pay for an “adequate diet at moderate cost.”[10]

Who were these poor? The Brookings authors and others emphasized the main site of America’s mass poverty: the farm. Farm family income, they reported, averaged only $1,240—$460 less than median family income in the nation. Moreover, the income of farmers was concentrated among a fairly small number of large commercial operators. The authors found that 54 percent of America’s 5.8 million farm families got less than $1,000 a year. That was about 17 million people, who long had been the poorest of the nation’s poor. Within fifteen years millions of them flocked to the cities, thereby markedly changing the nature of poverty in America. Not surprisingly, because American agriculture was depressed in those years, the South showed by far the lowest income levels. In twelve states, all in the South, the per capita income of the farm population was below $200. Such statistics gave little comfort to Jeffersonian advocates of life on the farm.

Poverty hit certain other groups particularly hard. Old people, last hired and first fired, were much more likely to be poor than people under 55 or 60. Members of female-headed families were almost universally poor. So were the disabled, and migrant workers. And blacks, as ever, clung to the lowest ledges of the income pyramid. George Schuyler, a prominent black intellectual, explained later, “the reason why the Depression didn’t have the impact on the Negro that it had on the whites was that the Negroes had been in the Depression all the time.[11]

If such widespread need persisted in 1929, why was not the welfare system more responsive? Among the many answers offered by scholars are several that employ broad functional explanations. Some maintain that the middle classes, psychologically insecure, stereotyped the poor in order to sustain their own self-esteem. That was “blaming the victim.” Other scholars stress racial considerations. Keeping welfare low, they say, locked blacks in their subordinate place. Still other writers emphasize social and economic considerations. Stingy levels of relief, they argue, assured farm and factory owners abundant cheap labor. Putting down the poor served also as a means of social control.[12]

These functional interpretations are useful, as far as they go. Charity workers, in trying to instill the work ethic, deliberately tried to keep people off relief. In so doing they expanded the pool of cheap labor. Americans generally remained indifferent to the exploitation of various groups, especially blacks. Lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Farm Bureau Federation drew their strength in the twentieth century from employers and large commercial farmers who profited from keeping poor people in their place, and who received psychological comfort from painting unflattering stereotypes of the needy. No explanation of the withered form of American welfare prior to 1930—and afterwards—can ignore the role played by purposeful interest groups that had good reasons for resisting generous welfare.

It is not very accurate, however, to imagine that these elites alone conspired to subvert the interests of the poor.[13] Reformers in the field, too, rarely showed much enthusiasm for extensive welfare. They preached, rather, the gospel of prevention: Their goal was to prevent poverty in the first place, thereby making welfare virtually unnecessary. Professional social workers, for instance, labored hard to develop sophisticated methods that would help families and individuals to help themselves. Lobbyists for the American Association for Labor Legislation, founded in 1906, concentrated on prevention of industrial accidents and of unemployment. Their plan for unemployment compensation featured the concept of “merit ratings”—whereby employers with records of maintaining stable employment would receive relief from taxation. The Association thought that merit ratings would discourage layoffs, and thereby prevent large-scale unemployment. [14]

Behind this quest for prevention lay several powerful ideas. One was the faith that hard work led inevitably to economic advancement, indeed to spiritual peace. As Theodore Roosevelt put it, “nothing in this world is worth having unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” It followed logically that those in need—save the few who were sick or tied down at home with children—were not working hard enough. Most of the poor were “undeserving.” Relief should be given grudgingly, if at all, in order to discourage such people from malingering and to sustain the morale of the populace. This faith in the work ethic remained a potent ideological force that affected not only conservative elites but also the middle classes. [15]

A second force militating against creation of a welfare state before 1930 was the lack of experience with, or confidence in, governmental answers to public problems. In this respect the American scene was unusual among the industrialized nations of the West, most of which had relatively strong, well-developed central governments. By contrast, the United States was divided ethnically, racially, and regionally. It cherished its voluntarist, federalist, and decentralist traditions. Until 1917, few Americans had much direct experience with governmental institutions beyond the local level—save when they mailed a letter at the post office.

Voluntarism in the United States meant more than qualified laissez-faire. For many, including labor leaders, it involved active distrust of government, which had traditionally sided with corporations. They knew from bitter experience that the government could take away with one hand what it had given with the other. Reformers, too, doubted the very capacity of government to cope with large-scale problems. They noted that when Germany and England adopted social insurance systems, those countries already had a trained and respected civil service. The United States, however, had a spoils­ridden, inefficient bureaucracy. One reformer complained, “The German success, such as it is, has been owing to a strictly competent and independent administration. With an administration like that which has controlled our army pensions, what would become of social insurance?”[16]

Lacking confidence in government, some experts in the inter-war years looked to the private sector to generate pension plans and other social programs. A few large and growing corporations responded, and “welfare capitalism” developed—but on only a very small scale, and benefiting not so much the poor as skilled workers who established seniority. The unemployed, the masses of poor farmers, women with dependent children, the aged, the disabled—all remained outside the scope of welfare capitalism. Neither then nor later did private efforts contribute greatly to the welfare of the poor in the United States.

Other reformers hoped that strong support for welfare might come from below-from the poor or working classes. But that was a forlorn hope prior to 1930. Labor unions, weary from contending with hostile opponents in government and in the private sector, were not a potent political force until the 1930s. The poor, meanwhile, rarely imagined that government would do much for them. They were divided ethnically and racially, virtually isolated in slums and backwaters. They had no organization, no role in politics; they knew from experience not to expect much. As one needy American observed in the early 1930s, “Always going to be more poor folks than them that ain’t poor …. I guess I always will be. I ain’t saying that’s the government’s fault. It’s just down right truth, that’s all.”[17]

Perhaps the most immovable obstacle in the way of more generous public welfare before 1930 was the optimism of the era. Once the frightening depression of the 1890s had subsided, middle-class Americans regained confidence. That confidence gripped Progressives, who imagined that they could do away with corruption and injustice. Conservatives, meanwhile, assumed that the play of the marketplace (and government assistance to corporations) would sustain economic progress. Like Hoover, they were certain that poverty would soon vanish from the land. Amid confidence such as this, advocates of expanded public welfare before 1930 seemed almost irrelevant.

2. The New Deal Establishes a Welfare State.

Among the many developments that changed American public welfare after 1930, none was so important as the Great Depression. It hit harder and lasted longer in the United States than in any other Western nation. It vastly expanded the number who were poor. Shattering the complacency and optimism that had characterized the 1920s, it forced the national government to respond to suffering. The emergent welfare state that arose dwarfed all earlier American efforts. In part because it developed so suddenly, however, it resembled a crazy-quilt of programs. Reformers since that time have struggled to improve the system.

The extent of need created by the Depression was staggering. One authoritative report concluded that 18.3 million American families and single people received less than $1,000 per year in fiscal 1936. That was around 60 million people. At the time at least $1,200 was deemed necessary for an urban family of four. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement in 1937 that “one-third of [the nation” was “ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished” was by almost any contemporary definition of poverty conservative. The percentage was probably closer to 50 percent.[18]

Many of these poor people, of course, suffered from forces that had little to do with the cataclysm of the 1930s. These were the “old” pre-depression poor: small farmers, the aged and disabled, female­headed households, minority groups. Other structural changes operated to compound such problems. One was the aging of the population. The number of Americans over 65 increased from 4.9 million in 1920 to 9 million in 1940—from 4.6 per cent to 6.9 per cent of the population. Another scourge was the ruination of the soil, which culminated in the Dust Bowl that drove the “Okies” on the westward trek captured in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Contemporaries, however, tended to slight both the residual poor and the throngs of poorly paid workers. Instead, they focused before 1935 on the catastrophic level of unemployment. According to official government estimates, unemployment rose from 1.6 million in 1929 to a high of 12.8 million in 1933. That was 25 per cent of the labor force. It dipped to a low of 7.7 million in 1937, but rose to 9.5 million, or 17 per cent, in 1939. Other estimates placed the high at around 15 million in 1933, and concluded that the number of people directly affected comprised one-third of the population of 123 million.[19]

These statistics, of course, do not tell all. They need some comparative dimension. In some ways the poverty of the 1930s was perhaps more easy to bear than that, say, of the 1960s. During the depression years around 50 per cent of the poor were able to supplement their diets through a little farming of their own. Thirty years later, about 85 per cent of poor people did not live on or near farms; for them, nothing was free. Americans in the 1930s, moreover, did not expect to own many expensive gadgets. Some 40 per cent of households in 1940 lacked bathtubs, 50 per cent central heating. By the mid-1960s, the vast majority of poor people in the United States had to have electricity and television; most owned cars and home appliances. Poor people in the 1930s, lacking television, mostly untravelled, were less aware of what the middle classes had. Their sense of relative deprivation was less acute.[20] Their very marginality, especially in the rural areas of the South and West, helped account for their essential invisibility to the public eye and for their neglect before 1930 by policy makers.

The estimates of poverty in the 1930s—including those that set it at 50 per cent or more of the population—also do not appear disastrously large in historical or international perspective. In 1900, similarly high percentages lived at or below subsistence, in the more stringent way that subsistence was defined in that era. Moreover, America was still a rich nation by world standards in the 1930s. When Russians viewed the film of The Grapes of Wrath,they marvelled that the Okies had cars. The humorist Will Ropers quipped that the United States was the only nation in history that went to the poorhouse in automobiles.

But that was of course the point: Americans in the 1930s did not care how Russian people lived. Like people in any country at any time, they measured their well-being by their own standards and expectations. Though these were much lower than they were to become thirty years later, they were higher than they had been in 1900, and they had been formed in an era, the 1920s, which had promised progress and prosperity. Americans in the 1930s were stunned especially by unemployment.

In reacting to the Great Depression, many middle-class Americans readily advanced old stereotypes about the poor. People on welfare were lazy. (“Why is a relief worker like King Solomon?” the joke went. “Because he takes his pick and goes to bed.”) Even Americans with more liberal attitudes, mesmerized by unemployment, tended to forget about low-wage workers, blacks, and immigrants. This absorption with unemployment, understandable in the circumstances, was unfortunate, for it did little to expose the suffering of the pre-depression poor, including the millions of regularly employed who suffered from low income.

Still, the extent of need proved so great that Americans were forced to jettison, even if slowly and reluctantly, old notions about poverty and welfare. Congressional responses between 1933 and 1938 show that the majority of people expected the federal government to help the unemployed. These needy, after all, were “deserving.” Leading spokesmen for Roosevelt’s New Deal, especially relief administrator Harry Hopkins, were eager to respond to this pressure and to institute bold new measures in federal relief and welfare. The result was a welfare state which, though rudimentary, marked a real break with the past. “During the ten years between 1929 and 1939,” an informed social worker wrote in 1940, “more progress was made in public welfare and relief than in the three hundred years after this country was first settled.”[21]

The first concern of the Roosevelt administration, which took office in March 1933, was to provide relief. To that end it quickly enacted a range of measures in the first “Hundred Days” of its existence. In the area of relief the most important were the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed young men in forestry and conservation work, and especially the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). With an initial appropriation of $500 million, the FERA under Hopkins attempted to achieve its goal of providing “sufficient relief to prevent physical suffering and to maintain living standards.” Wasting no time, Hopkins spent more than $5 million in his first two hours in office. Most of the $500 million went as a cash dole, or outdoor relief; some recipients got work relief. States were expected to match FERA money at the ratio of $3 for every $1 from Washington. Later that year Roosevelt authorized the newly created Civil Works Administration (CWA) to tide people over the potentially disastrous winter of 1933-34. This was a work relief program available to needy people without a means test. It aided more than four million workers at its peak in January 1934, and paid wages averaging more than $15 a week—two and one half times average FERA benefits. No New Deal creation was more generous or more gratefully received than the CWA.[22]

Many liberal reformers were not wholly pleased with the FERA. States, they complained, could not or would not provide the matching money. Governors, they added, used the money to place political allies on the payroll, and denied aid to political enemies. Local administrators, still holding poor-law philosophies, persisted in humiliating applicants during means tests. One of Hopkins’s aides was enraged by witnessing the harsh dispensation of relief in Arizona: “When I see the lack of intelligence, not to say common, ordinary human sympathy which characterizes the handling of destitute families in some places, I am ashamed of what we are doing.”[23]

Hopkins, a strong and humane administrator, worked hard to overcome these limitations. But both he and Roosevelt became increasingly uneasy about continuing the dole for long. Relief of that kind, they thought, demoralized recipients. “I don’t think anybody can go on year after year, month after month,” Hopkins said, “accepting relief without affecting his character in someway unfavorably. It is probably going to undermine the independence of thousands of families.” Similar thinking prompted Roosevelt to declare in January 1935 that “continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” The federal government, he closed, “must and shall quit this business of relief.”[24]

To replace the FERA, the President called for a division of responsibilities between the federal government, which was henceforth to supply work relief (not the dole) to those able to work, and the states, which were expected to take care of “unemployables.” He also called on Congress to approve social insurance, including old age pensions and unemployment compensation. Once the depression was over, Roosevelt thought, social insurance would become the main bastion of defence against poverty; except for state or local aid to a small residue of unemployables, relief would become virtually unnecessary. These beliefs—decentralization of relief was good, the dole was demoralizing, heavy welfare spending was fiscally dangerous, social insurance could prevent destitution—exposed the President’s faith in a traditional set of attitudes. Like his contemporaries, he earnestly hoped that the depression would end and that with social insurance in force, poverty would “wither away.”

Congress, too, was ready to “quit this business of federal relief,” and did Roosevelt’s bidding in 1935. The American welfare state assumed its essential form at that time. It had four main parts:

  1. “general” assistance, funded by states and localities, for so­called unemployables;
  2. work relief, paid by the federal government, though this proved only a temporary expedient;
  3. “categorical” public assistance, for the needy blind and aged, and for dependent children;
  4. social insurance in the form of old age pensions and unemployment compensation.

Categorical assistance  and social insurance were introduced via the Social Security Act of 1935.

From the beginning, “general” assistance was inadequate. In leaving this responsibility to states and localities, Congress, like Roosevelt, grossly underestimated the numbers who were to apply for help. These included not only people obviously “unemployable,” but many other able-bodied men and women who could not get work in the private sector or work relief from the federal government. Many were old or unskilled. Others, like the Okies, were displaced workers who roamed the land in search of employment. States and localities adhered to old settlement rules and regularly refused them aid. Some local officials ran the migrants out of town. A general assistance program was essential, both then and later. Indeed, it gave aid to perhaps four million Americans per year in the late 1930s; no other public program affected so many people. But millions more needed help. Then and always, general assistance remained an ill-supported stepchild within the complex federal system of welfare in America.[25]

Federal work relief promised to be more effective. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), which carried most of this relief load between 1935. and 1943, supported as many as three million workers a month in the mid-1930s. Most of them were manual laborers engaged in construction work. Some were employed on imaginative projects benefiting artists, actors, and writers. The National Youth Administration (NYA), an offshoot of the WPA, provided part-time jobs to more than 2 million students, and assisted 2.5 million more who were not in school. WPA and NYA workers built and improved hospitals, schools, municipal facilities, and playgrounds. By any pre-depression standard the work relief programs represented a striking advance in welfare.[26]

But work relief, too, disappointed many reformers. To begin with, the work was for the most part menial; it did little to enhance skills. It paid poorly, around $55 per month, or $660 per year. Shortages of equipment and of qualified supervisory personnel led to inefficient management, and to damaging criticism from conservatives. WPA, they sniped, stood for “We Piddle Around.” And shortages of funds underlay all these limitations. Congressional appropriations, though unprecedentedly large, scarcely coped with the magnitude of need. The WPA ordinarily supported only a quarter to a third of the 8 to 11 million unemployed workers during the late 1930s.[27]

The third part of the New Deal welfare state, categorical assistance for the needy blind, aged, and dependent children, ultimately became an important, though controversial, part of American social welfare. By these measures the federal government and the states tried to support some of the poorest of the obviously “deserving” poor. The programs provided aid in cash, and required the states and localities to modify some of their harsh practices dating from the colonial period. The aid to dependent children program (ADC), which gradually became the most expensive of the categorical assistance plans, reached 700,000 children in 1939, as opposed to the but 300,000 who had benefited from state mothers’ aid laws at the start of the Depression.[28]

But categorical assistance, too, proved inadequate in the 1930s and thereafter. Reflecting the pervasive faith in decentralization and federalism, the programs operated on the matching grant principle: Washington provided funds only if states did. Some of the states—mainly the wealthier ones—had the money to take full advantage of the matching grants. But many of the poorer states could not or did not. The result was wide variations in payments. In 1939 ADC payments ranged from averages of $8.10 per family per month in Arkansas to $61.07 in Massachusetts. Recipients of old age assistance fared a little better, but nowhere received enough to attain a subsistence level of income.[29]

The decentralization of categorical assistance permitted states and localities a relatively free hand in administering the programs. Many, following traditional practices, imposed tough income or property restrictions. Money earned by recipients was promptly subtracted from benefits—a total disincentive to work. States also discriminated against minority groups, and employed many ruses to save money and retaliate against the “undeserving” poor—“welfare mothers”—getting ADC. A common ploy was to restrict aid to families who lived in a “suitable home”—a euphemism for households in which there were no illegitimate children. States and localities also developed “absent father” rules. These provided that aid be refused to dependent children in families where male breadwinners were suspected of living in or near the home. In order to enforce such regulations, officials resorted to snooping, including midnight raids to determine if there was a man in the house.

The fourth part of the early welfare state, social insurance, was strictly speaking not “welfare” at all. Money for the major programs in this area, unemployment compensation and old age pensions, came mainly from the private sector—ultimately from recipients. An employers’ payroll tax provided the funds for unemployment compensation. Congress authorized employers in states with federally approved plans to deduct 90 per cent of the taxes. Old age pensions—social security in American parlance—were financed by taxes on employers and employees. Contrary to the practice in most other industrialized nations, the government chipped in no money from general funds to supplement the program.

In the long run, these social insurance programs affected far more people than did public assistance or work relief. That, indeed, was the intent of the New Dealers who inaugurated them. They believed in social insurance, not handouts. But particularly in the early years, the programs left much to be desired. The unemployment compensation plan, like categorical assistance, permitted states wide latitude in establishing benefits and in administering rules. Big variations developed. The program also excluded employees in small firms, and agricultural and domestic workers. These people, of course, were among the neediest in the population. Those workers who were covered ordinarily received compensation for sixteen weeks, at about half their weekly pay. This was less generous than in Britain, where recipients tended to get three-fourths of weekly wages. Maximum payments in the United States were around $15 a week, or the same as earned by the better paid WPA workers. When coverage expired, the unemployed had no recourse save to join the throngs seeking work relief or general assistance. Many received no aid.[30]

Old age insurance also exempted large categories of the neediest people, notably domestics and agricultural laborers. When old age pension payments began—not until 1940—only 20 per cent of workers qualified. At that time benefits ranged from $10 to a maximum of $85 per month—well below subsistence. The law also included no payments for health insurance or disability. Until 1939, it did not assist widows or survivors. It was no wonder that the Social Security Act of 1935, which inaugurated these plans, left many liberals discouraged. One termed it a “measure to furnish such means of security as do not arouse serious opposition.”[31]

Distressed by the limitations of government social policy in the 1930s, some reformers tended to indict the whole four-part welfare system composed of general assistance, work relief, categorical aid, and social insurance. That system, they charged correctly, did not meet people’s needs; it sanctioned large variations in benefits; it catered to local pressures. Largely because of the political influence of the medical and real estate lobbies, it did not include health insurance or much public housing—important aspects of the welfare programs of other Western nations. In distinguishing sharply between welfare (given grudgingly, and mainly to the “deserving”) and social insurance, the American system tended to highlight the stigma attached to recipients of means-tested public assistance. In these and other ways, the American welfare state left much to be desired.

Many contemporary forces accounted for these limitations of the early American welfare state. Among the most obvious were racist views toward blacks, states-rights ideology, the power of organized pressure groups, and the traditionally hostile views toward welfare held by most middle-class citizens. These posed very real obstacles to liberal reformers, who secured considerable legislation under the circumstances. For instance, Congress and Roosevelt held back from trying to impose rigorous national standards because they feared that the ultra-conservative Supreme Court would rule their efforts unconstitutional. Roosevelt also supported Social Security’s conservative financing—by worker contributions—in the hope that such a system would guarantee long-term political support. Congressmen (and the President) moved cautiously also because they wished to control public expenditures—few Americans at the time supported deficit spending. Modest infusions of aid, they hoped, would alleviate distress in the short-run, while recovery programs would provide the major element in the war against poverty: long-term economic progress. Like many Americans—then and later—congressmen wanted to believe that economic growth would soon develop, and that the need for heavy public welfare would “wither away.”

But the early welfare state of the 1930s nonetheless marked a large leap forward in the history of American treatment of the needy. During the 1930s, some 46 million people got public aid or social insurance at one time or another. That was 35 per cent of the population. Public funds for these programs scarcely existed in 1929; by 1939 they amounted to $5 billion. That was 27 per cent of governmental expenditures at all levels and 7 per cent of the Gross National Product. Most of this money went for work relief ($3.1 billion) and general and categorical aid ($1.1 billion). Though the long-range priority remained social insurance, not public assistance, the early welfare state provided public aid at levels that had been unthinkable in 1929.


3. The Rediscovery of Poverty, 1960-1965

Between 1940 and 1960, the Congress retained and managed sporadically to extend the welfare state created in the 1930s. It steadily increased federal funding for matching grants; it added “caretaker” grants for mothers of dependent children, thus changing ADC into Aid to Families of Dependent Children; it set up a new category, the disabled, who might get public assistance; and it approved formulas that resulted in more liberal categorical assistance in low income states. It also expanded social security. In 1939 it approved pensions for widows and survivors of covered (insured) workers; in 1956 it added disability insurance. Over the years it greatly increased coverage, so that by the late 1970s social security reached more than 95 percent of Americans over 65. To this extent, Roosevelt’s political calculations proved wise. For all its limitations, the early welfare state set in motion programs that in time sharply challenged the older voluntaristic traditions of American social policy.[32]

But these years between 1940 and 1960 are best described as a period of “benign neglect” of welfare. Given the unprecedented affluence that followed in the wake of heavy defense spending after 1939, that was not surprising. Congress, indeed, scrapped the WPA in 1943, and it was slow to liberalize public assistance. It never supplied federal funding for general assistance, or appropriated much money for government-sponsored employment. It refused to approve the major goals of welfare reformers: guaranteed minimum subsistence payments for recipients of categorical aid, large-scale public housing, and national health insurance.

This benign neglect, moreover, had fateful consequences for poor people. Far from “withering away,” poverty remained a serious problem during these wartime and post-war years. Official estimates placed the number of poor people in 1960 at around 39 million people, or 21 percent of the population. Income remained badly distributed, and the sense of relative deprivation—whetted by the mass media and by the affluence of the upper middle classes—grew keener as time passed. Observers pointed in alarm at increases in juvenile delinquency, illegitimacy, and family breakup. They worried about the ghettos of Northern cities to which millions of poor people, mainly from the South, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, were flocking in the 1940s and 1950s. Beneath the apparent consensus of that deceptively quiet period lay tensions that were to explode in the turbulent 1960s.

Also beneath the surface lay broad forces that after 1965 were to prompt considerable improvements in social welfare in America. One of these was political: the impetus given during World War II to the growth of the federal government. In time, that growth built up the welfare bureaucracy, greatly expanded the fiscal resources of the State, and raised the expectations of pressure groups, who turned to Washington for aid. Utilizing a growing network of lobbies, these groups pressed for and to some extent succeeded in liberalizing social policy. Economic forces, too, led inexorably to long-range improvements in the American way of welfare. Clearly the most powerful of these was the remarkable prosperity set in motion during World War II. At that time, Americans began to regain the optimism that had characterized social scientists in the late 1920s. Poverty, they thought, could—and should—be abolished.

But these were long-range forces. Until the late 1950s, a sluggish time for the economy, few people worried much about poverty or thought seriously about reforming welfare. Leading social scientists, indeed, imagined that America had developed into a pluralistic but essentially consensual society marked by a virtual absence of sharp class divisions. “As far as the bulk of Western society is concerned,” one prominent sociologist intoned in 1959, “and especially in the United States, the conception of class is largely obsolete.”[33] The sources of such optimism were obvious and historically familiar: the remarkable prosperity and social stability of the era. Despite the existence of millions in poverty, the vast majority of the population was healthier and wealthier than ever before. It was easy to assume that economic growth-the cure-all-would ultimately wipe out the vestiges of suffering. In such a world, both poverty and welfare would soon wither away.

No one did more to damage that illusion than the activist Michael Harrington, whose powerful, passionate book, The Other America,appeared in 1962. Harrington conceded that economic growth had pulled some people out of poverty. But the disappearance of the “mass” poverty of the 1930s merely made the “class” poverty of the 1950s all the more outrageous. The “new” poor, he said, were the aged, the minorities, people in female-headed households, farm workers driven from the land. They lived in an “other America” that was a “ghetto, a modern poor farm for the rejects of society and of the economy.”[34]

Harrington was not the first to “rediscover” the poor. A congressional subcommittee headed by Senator John Sparkman of Alabama had issued deeply researched reports revealing the problems of “low income families” during the 1950s. Using a family poverty line of $2,000, it estimated that 20-25 percent of Americans were poor.[35] The economist John Kenneth Galbraith published The Affluent Society in 1958, an attack on the notion that economic growth by itself would work wonders. He called for a vast expansion of public services to the poor. Other writers, notably Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin, published books and articles in the late 1950s and 1960s warning readers of the structural obstacles to economic opportunity, especially in the ever more crowded slums of the North.[36] But Harrington wrote with a scarcely controlled rage that seemed to touch a nerve among reformers in the early 1960s. Between 1963 and 1965, the poor received more attention—in magazines, in books, in Congress—than at any time since the 1930s.

The reasons for this rediscovery were not wholly clear. Polls at the time suggested that the majority of Americans continued to hold unflattering stereotypes about the poor. Indeed, in some ways these stereotypes were more hostile than ever, for they depicted a growing class of welfare recipients: black “welfare mothers.[37] Polls revealed, too, that Americans yearned to economize on welfare, which—alas—had not withered away. Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC), originally conceived to assist “deserving” families (mostly headed by widows), had covered 625,000 families at a total cost of $565 million per year in 1950; by 1962, thanks to an increase in family breakups, it aided 943,000 families (most headed by divorced or separated women) at a cost of $1.4 billion. Nor did Americans become concerned about poverty because they were afraid of social disorder. On the surface at least, the early 1960s seemed stable. Civil rights leaders were preaching nonviolence; the ghettos appeared quiet; almost no one talked of “black power.” It is historically inaccurate to claim, as some scholars were shortly to do, that the rediscovery of poverty in the early 1960s masked a drive on the part of elites to avert social disorder.[38]

Rather, other forces prompted this resurgence of interest in the poor. One was the dawning realization among some observers that economic growth was slowing down. This had been Galbraith’s point. Moreover, economists at that time had developed enormous self­confidence in their ability to manage things. George J. Stigler, head of the American Economic Association, proclaimed in 1965 that “economics is finally at the threshold of its golden age—nay, we already have one foot through the door.”[39] Carefully considered policies, economists said, could eradicate poverty, at little cost to the middle classes. One important study concluded that the “elimination of poverty is well within the means of Federal, state, and local ,government.” It could be done at a cost of about $10 billion a year, less than 2 percent of the GNP and less than a fifth of the cost of national defense.[40]

Predictions such as these revealed two fundamental assumptions that lay behind the rediscovery of poverty at the time. One was the faith that a wealthy nation like the United States could afford to abolish need. That faith had scarcely been imaginable in the 1930s, and had been slow to develop in the aftermath of the Depression. The relative prosperity of the early 1960s made it much easier to hold. The second assumption related to the first: poverty in such an affluent society was anomalous—and therefore intolerable. It was un-American. This was the central theme of Harrington, who was appalled at the co-existence of wealth and destitution. It moved Galbraith and many other liberal economists, including President Kennedy’s Council of Economic Advisers. The rediscovery of poverty, in short, did not reflect a softening of popular attitudes toward the poor, or a consensus that welfare ought to be extended as a basic right of citizenship, or a fear of social unrest. It stemmed rather from the optimism and confidence that gripped economists, policy makers, and (to some extent) the American public during the early Kennedy-Johnson years.

This rediscovery of poverty led in time to useful academic discussion about the nature of poverty. Within the next few years scholars debated hotly the meaning of terms such as “culture of poverty.” By 1970 they had conceded the obvious: persisting cultural patterns helped explain the behavior of various ethnic, racial, and income groups. But the scholars largely jettisoned historically persistent notions that poverty itself represented a “culture” passed from generation to generation. Rather, destitution stemmed from economic problems, not cultural deprivation. It inhered in demographic change that expanded the number of old people and of broken families, in racism that blocked the aspirations of minority groups, in the vicissitudes of a market economy. It followed from this economic, non-cultural interpretation of poverty that welfare must be expanded, jobs provided, civil rights protected.[41]

In the short run, the rediscovery of poverty had more visible political repercussions. President Kennedy, an activist, secured from Congress in 1962 legislation to assist so-called “depressed areas” of high unemployment, and a Manpower Development and Training Act to help able-bodied people to improve their skills. Congress also passed amendments to the welfare system. The most important of these extended the AFDC program by making aid available to intact families with unemployed parents (UP). Though optional (half the states refused to supply the matching money for it), AFDC-UP was an advance that promised to hold poor families together by offering them a form of unemployment relief. Under Kennedy’s prodding, Congress also approved the much-touted Public Welfare Amendments of 1962. These augmented federal funding for the training of social workers and authorized federal payment of 75 percent of the cost to states of rehabilitative or preventive services to the needy. Kennedy hailed these amendments as “the most far-reaching revision of our public welfare program since it was enacted in 1935.”[42]

Aside from AFDC-UP, these ventures did not in fact do much for the poor. Most of the able-bodied needed decent employment, not training for jobs that scarcely existed. Most of the unemployables did not need services so much as they needed money, which neither Congress nor Kennedy was anxious to provide in large amounts. Indeed, none of these programs was generously funded. Like most Americans, Kennedy and his liberal aides still believed in prevention, not income maintenance. They hoped services would cause poverty to wither away. They were ready to give a hand up, but not a handout.

By far the most visible outcome of the rediscovery of poverty was the “war on poverty”. Led by Walter Heller, Kennedy’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, high-level White House aides in 1963 developed careful studies of need and income distribution. These revealed the slowing down of economic growth in the late 1950s, and the necessity of government action to help the poor. President Johnson,inheriting the staff work, persuaded his then tractable Democratic Congress to approve a “war on poverty” in the summer of 1964, and named Sargent Shriver to head the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO)that was to administer the program.[43]

Few government programs in modern American history enjoyed so much initial ballyhoo as the war on poverty. Reflecting a series of congressional compromises, it featured a range of activities, including loans for poor farmers and small businessmen, aid for needy college students, and the Volunteers in Service in America (VISTA), a domestic “peace corps” that sent idealistic young people into deprived areas. Its main programs, however, were the job Corps, which set up training to develop skills among the poor, and the Community Action Plans. These CAPs-more than a thousand in all-provided federal money for a variety of community-based programs, among them legal services for the poor and Head Start, an effort to enrich the lives of pre-school children. In helping to design these Plans, the poor were to have “maximum feasible participation.” That emphasis reflected a disenchantment that had already set in concerning the social-work bureaucracy and the “services” strategy of the 1962 Public Welfare Amendments, as well as the belief that existing federal agencies-ever battling each other-could not be entrusted with the money.

Phrases like “war on poverty” vastly exaggerated what was in fact a very modest skirmish. Like earlier government efforts, the OEO shied away from a WPA-style program of government jobs, and from income maintenance. These cost money, and were resisted in Congress. It stressed instead the old goal of prevention, by increasing “opportunity.” Shriver made that emphasis clear. “I’m not at all interested in running a hand-out program,” he said, “or a ‘something for nothing’ program.” Johnson emphasized that the war was to cut back on welfare, not to increase it. “We are not content to accept the endless growth of relief rolls or welfare rolls,” he said. “We want to offer the forgotten fifth of our people opportunity, not doles.” For these reasons, the OEO never gave poor people what they most needed: jobs and income.[44]

Community action also proved to be a dubious way to attack destitution. Most poor people, after all, suffered from broad economic maladjustments that transcended community limits. Even well-designed, innovative programs at the community level could make scant headway against such wider forces. Moreover, controversy soon developed over what was meant by “maximum feasible participation” of the poor. As federal money started to trickle into communities, local militants—many of whom were engaged in civil rights activity (and after 1965 in “black power” movements)—battled with established agencies, especially the social-work bureaucracy and state and local governments. When OEO sided with some of these militants, mayors rose in hot protest, and Congress responded by limiting the program planning powers of the poor. It also earmarked funds for “safe” programs, such as Head Start. By 1966, the counterattack by established political powers had largely curbed the militants.

By that time Johnson had tired of the program he had launched with such fanfare in 1964. Distressed by the political controversy surrounding community action, he was also absorbed in the Vietnam War. So he did not exert much effort on behalf of funding the programs. Lack of money, indeed, beset the Office of Economic Opportunity from the beginning. From 1965 to 1970, peak years of the agency, it received an average of around $1.7 billion per year. These amounts never comprised more than 1.5 per cent of the federal budget or one-third of one per cent of the Gross National Product. During those years the number of poor ranged from 25 to 33 million. If all the OEO money had gone directly to the poor—and it did not—each poor person in America would have received around $50 to $70 per year. Assessing the program, one expert concluded in 1970, “the war on poverty has barely scratched the surface. Most poor people have had no contact with it, except perhaps to hear the promises of a better life to come.”[45]

That was perhaps too harsh an assessment. The “war” brought the rediscovery of poverty on to the agenda for political action. It provided funding for programs, such as Neighborhood Legal Services, that soon challenged successfully the harsh practices of state and local welfare administrators. It helped locate and train upwardly mobile community organizers who sustained the pressure on city governments to do something about the ghettos. The “war” also prompted experts to study new and better ways of coping with need. A rough consensus among liberals behind income maintenance developed as a result by 1970.

Still, the excessive rhetoric of the war on poverty was unfortunate. The gulf between promises and delivery quickly alienated many of the poor. Their expectations raised but not satisfied, they grew distrustful of established authorities. One planner noted sadly, “there was the assumption of regularly increased funding …. Promises were made that way …. the result was a trail of broken promises. No wonder everybody got mad and rioted.” While America’s urban riots of the late 1960s had deeper causes, notably racial discrimination, it was true that the war on poverty did as much to frustrate as to assist the poor.[46]

The rhetoric disillusioned planners as well. Some people who had initially supportedthe social welfare programs of the Johnson years came to regard the war on poverty as the classic example of what could go wrong with governmental efforts. Dismissing the modest gains that had been made, they concluded that Johnson tried to do too much too fast. They questioned thereafter the capacity of social scientists to plan, and of government to deliver, ambitious programs of social betterment. These doubts, which were aimed at American liberalism itself, persist into the 1980s. They have helped to stymie subsequent efforts at comprehensive welfare reform.

4: The Revolution in Social Welfare, 1965-1975

Despite the reaction against welfare programs, three dramatic developments changed the face of American poverty and social welfare between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s. First, a precipitious drop in the number of poor; second, a stunning enlargement of social welfare programs, especially social security; and, third, an explosion in the welfare rolls leading to what worried contemporaries thought was a “welfare crisis.”

The first development owed little to new welfare policies, but much to the spread of old ones and especially to the real economic growth of the 1960s. Thanks to that growth, the number of Americans defined as living below the government’s official poverty line decreased from 39 million in 1959 (or 21 per cent of the population) to 32 million in 1965 (17 per cent) to 23 million (11 per cent) in 1973. The vast majority of people who climbed above the line in those years were previously poor workers and their families. Those left behind were disproportionately members of minority groups, small farmers and farm laborers, old people, the disabled, and people in female-headed families.[47]

Some contemporary observers played down this improvement. The distribution of income, they insisted, remained largely unchanged in the postwar era, during which time the lowest fifth of income earners got only around one-twentieth of the national income. Liberals added that the official poverty line employed by the government was low. In 1969, for instance, it stood at $3,700 for an urban family of four, compared to the $6,960 that the Bureau of Labor Statistics thought should have been applied. If that higher line had been applied, 33 per cent—not the 12 to 14 per cent estimated by the government—would have been defined as “poor.” Liberals pointed also to the heightened sense of deprivation that lower-class citizens felt in an age of mass communications and rapidly expanding expectations.

But even reformers had to admit that the gains were real. For some historically poor groups, notably the aged, the improvement was particularly dramatic. In 1959, perhaps 40 per cent ofAmericans over 65 lived below the official poverty line; by 1974, the percentage was only 16 per cent—not much higher than the national average. Studies at the time also suggested that a fairly small minority of the poor-around 20 per cent (or 5 to 6 million people in 1973)—lived in chronic destitution. The rest escaped poverty from time to time. Optimists pointed out also that the official poverty line, though lower than others that might have been used, was nonetheless set at levels that allowed for considerably better living standards than had the rough poverty lines used in the 1930s and 1940s. In most material ways, poor Americans in the 1960s lived more comfortably than had their counterparts in earlier generations.[48]

America’s poor were also staggeringly well off by world standards. The per capita income of Harlem, the black ghetto of New York City, ranked in 1960 with that of the top five nations in the world. Blacks in Mississippi—among the poorest groups in the nation—had a median income in 1959 of $944, compared to a median for Puerto Rico of $819. Puerto Rico then ranked in the top quarter of the world’s nations in per capita income. In Harlan County, Kentucky, one of the country’s poorest, two-thirds of the homes in 1960 were considered “substandard” by the government. Yet 67 per cent had television, 42 per cent telephones, 59 per cent an automobile.[49]

The second major change of these years, in social welfare programs, was almost as remarkable. Public spending for social welfare (including public assistance and social insurance but excluding education and veterans’ benefits) increased at an annual rate between 1965 and 1976 of 7.2 per cent in constant dollars. In 1960, such spending was 7.7 per cent of the GNP, in 1965 10.5 per cent, in 1974 16 per cent. These figures showed that the expensive war in Vietnam, however draining, did not prevent unprecedented increases in spending for domestic purposes. The government was providing both guns and butter.[50]

Liberal critics, of course, were quick to point out that most of these increases went for social insurance, and not for public assistance. The people getting the most help were not the neediest—minorities, female-headed families, the “undeserving”—but working people who had paid for their own social security benefits. Reformers complained also that social welfare programs in the United States still lagged behind those of other Western industrial nations—in coverage, in size of benefits, and in the spirit in which the aid was given. And critics lamented especially the continuing flaws in public­assistance programs. As ever, the federal government gave states and localities no funds for general assistance, which continued to be woefully inadequate. The categorical assistance programs, including aid to families of dependent children, still featured wide state-by-state variations in coverage and in the size of benefits. In no state did such assistance alone come close to bringing poor individuals or families up to the level of the official poverty lines. One expert concluded in 1970, “the current Public Assistance system of the United States … deserves to go down in history with the British poor laws of the early Industrial Revolution.”[51]

While such critics correctly identified historic flaws in the system, they could not deny that the American social welfare programs, broadly defined to include social insurance, expanded dramatically in these years. That was especially true of social security, which distributed $16.6 billion to 20.8 million retired people in 1965, and $54 billion to 29.9 million nine years later. Moreover, thanks to Johnson’s efforts, Congress in 1965 added Medicare—health insurance for the aged—to social security. That became a very vital—and expensive—part of the country’s social welfare system. Equally vital were other new and growing commitments—“in-kind” programs such as food stamps, which offered poor people relief in purchasing groceries, and Medicaid, which extended medical help mainly to people on categorical assistance. Food stamps, a new program that no one expected much from in the early 1960s, cost $36 million and went to 633,000 people in 1965. By 1975, food stamps assisted 17.1 million people. Medicaid, a federal-state program, was inaugurated in 1965; by 1975 it provided an estimated $9 billion in benefits to 23 million recipients. These in-kind benefits were means-tested, and went only to the needy. They greatly supplemented the cash benefits from programs like AFDC.

Experts who attempted to assess the impact of such spending on poverty concluded that it was considerable. Cash transfer payments removed about 38 per cent of the poor, or 5 million households, from poverty in 1965. By 1972, the percentage was 44 per cent, the number of households, 7.7 million. The development of in-kind benefits further alleviated poverty by the mid-1970s. Estimates placed the percentage of households pulled out of poverty by cash transfers and in-kind payments at around 60 per cent—nearly 15 million households—by the mid-1970s.[52]

It was not difficult to spot the chief reasons for these improvements. One was demographic. By far the most impressive gains in social spending were for the aged under social security and Medicare. Benefits under these programs were regularly increased—by 20 per cent in the election year of 1972 alone. In 1974 they were “indexed” so as to keep pace with inflation. Congress approved such policies in part because it still adhered to its faith in social insurance as an alternative to public assistance. It did so primarily, however, because old people were by then numerous, well organized, and politically powerful. Congress could not ignore them.[53]

The very maturing of America’s social welfare system further abetted the increase in social welfare of the 1960s and 1970s. Before then the United States, a latecomer to the field, had been struggling to expand coverage and benefits. Many old people still lacked the required amount of covered time under social security, and did not receive pensions. By the mid-1960s, however, America had been operating its social security system for thirty years, long enough to catch up with other nations in the field and to involve most workers in its system.

Political forces also contributed to the rise in social welfare spending at the time. Money for food stamps, for instance, escalated between 1968 and 1972 in part because President Richard Nixon felt obliged to respond to Democratic exposes of malnutrition in America, and because well-organized food retailers and producers applied pressure for the programs. Medicaid was approved in 1965 in part because state officials demanded federal help for medical aid programs they were then struggling to administer. Indeed, states rights ideology—a potent force in the 1930s—was weak by the 1970s. However much states and localities cherished the ideals of decentralization, they found it increasingly difficult to cope with the manifold responsibilities thrust upon them, and they applied political pressure on the federal government for help. The growing force of such pressure groups accounted for the gradual nationalization of welfare.

The jump in social welfare spending depended especially on the country’s ability to pay. The economic growth of the 1960s and early 1970s was impressive. So was the all-important belief held at the time that America could afford increased social spending, that poverty could be eliminated without causing any deprivation to the middle classes. When Sargent Shriver said in 1966 that the United States “virtually could eliminate” poverty, he exposed a faith that had gathered strength during the previous decades of prosperity: the widespread conviction that the age of Malthusian scarcity had vanished forever. In appropriating unheard of sums for social welfare, Congress reflected this surge in confidence.

The third major change of this period, the rise in the welfare rolls, was perhaps the most dramatic development of all. The number of Americans on categorical public assistance grew from 7.1 million in 1960 to 7.8 million in 1965 to 11. 1 million in 1969 to 14.4 million in 1974. All of this growth came in the numbers on AFDC, which increased from 3.1 million in 1960 to 10.8 million in 1974. The percentage of poor people on AFDC was 13 per cent in 1965, 43 per cent in 1974.[54]

That surge in the rolls did not come because Americans suddenly jettisoned old and harsh stereotypes about the welfare poor, thus gladly opening up the rolls to people once excluded. On the contrary, polls taken in the 1960s and 1970s continued to show substantial majorities of Americans holding unflattering views of the poor and hostile attitudes toward welfare, which they yearned to cut back. As the welfare rolls swelled, people did not applaud the greater comprehensiveness of the system. Instead, they cried in alarm that the nation was suffering from a “welfare crisis” that if unchecked would bankrupt the country and rip into the moral fiber of the population.”[55]

In fact, a host of social forces helped account for the increases in the rolls. Some of these were demographic. The baby boom of the 1940s and 1950s expanded considerably the numbers of children potentially eligible for AFDC. The mass migrations of poor people to the more liberal Northern and Western states also led to long-range increases in the rolls. Around three-fourths of the rise in case loads in the 1960s took place in nine Northern urban states. California and New York alone accounted for more than 40 per cent of it.[56]

Five other developments, especially in these liberal Northern states, were important in enlarging the welfare load. One was the approval in these states of AFDC-UP; this aid to unemployed parents accounted for perhaps 10 per cent of the increases. A second was the tendency of these relatively wealthy states to raise the income levels at which people become eligible for aid under AFDC. They did so because of changes in the matching grant formula, which after 1966 guaranteed the federal government would pay at least half of whatever total sum each state paid to AFDC families, providing the state also offered Medicaid. That liberalized formula enticed states to raise income levels for eligibility, so as to maximize their access to federal dollars.

Changes in the law represented a third reason. Thanks in part to the role of OEO legal services and in part to the egalitarian temper of the times, lawyers at last mounted serious challenges to the hoary practices of state and local welfare administrators. These challenges reached the Supreme Court, which between 1968 and 1971 struck down the “absent father” rules and residency requirements, as well as regulations that had denied aid to families with supposedly “employable” mothers. These and other decisions improved the quality of treatment accorded the poor and diminished somewhat the great stigma that historically had attached to applying for aid.

The other two developments, most important of all, accentuated the significance of this rise in the pool of eligibles. One was a big jump in the percentage of eligible families that applied for aid. This increase reflected the much heightened awareness that potential clients had of their rights. The second development was a rise in the percentage of eligible applicants who were in fact granted aid. These two forces resulted in a fantastic jump in the participation of eligible families in AFDC, from perhaps one in three in the early 1960s to more than 90 per cent in 1971. For the first time in American history, the largest category of people eligible for assistance, AFDC families, was taking virtually full advantage of its opportunities.

What prompted this historic development? The most obvious source of it was changing attitudes of poor people themselves. Despite the hostility of the middle classes to increases in welfare, poor Americans at last refused to be cowed from applying for aid. Welfare, they were coming to believe, was a right. So was health care under Medicaid, the availability of which under AFDC clearly quickened the desire of poor families to secure assistance. Compared to the past, when poor people—harassed and stigmatized by public authorities—were slow to claim their rights, this was a fundamental change. The Depression era dirge, “always going to be more poor folks than them that ain’t poor,” was as dated as the Model A Ford.

But why did the poor now become more assertive? One important reason was the civil rights movement that gathered momentum in the 1960s. It helped to arouse some of the ghettos, to train activists, and generally to heighten the sense of inequality and relative deprivation that gripped all low-income people, whether black or white. The civil rights movement, in turn, owed much of its strength to the broad reach of egalitarian thinking that affected most Western nations in the postwar age of escalating expectations, in which the poor—at last—were full and eager participants.

If the increase in the welfare rolls depended heavily on pressure from below, it also received support from the top. Thanks to growing pressures for aid from state and local officials, and from the poor themselves, federal bureaucrats looked aggressively for ways to expand their coverage and to manipulate the wording of formulas so as to maximize aid. As one leading official proclaimed in 1969, “you hatch it, we match it.” This attitude contrasted sharply with those of the conservative state and local officials who had played dominant roles in welfare in the 1930s. And fortunately for the poor, federal officials now had greater opportunity than before to direct the welfare state. This partial nationalization of welfare interacted dynamically with the pressures from below to make the granting of aid more humane. In this sense it was inaccurate to claim, as did radicals and conservatives alike, that liberalism was dead, that the “welfare bureaucracy” was the enemy, or that the federal government mis­managed all that it touched.[57]

5: Floors As Well As Doors

For most of the time prior to the 1960s, the gospel of prevention had possessed anti-poverty reformers. That faith had assumed many forms, including the war on poverty. After the 1960s, the faith persisted. But for many experts who explored ways of ending the scourge of poverty, it no longer commanded first place. Preventive efforts, they thought, had simply not succeeded. Given the structural problems inherent in modern industrial society, such efforts could never work wonders; there would always be poor people in need of welfare. So these experts changed their tack. Henceforth they endorsed income maintenance—floors under income, as well as doors to self-help. They were ready, willing, and eager to give a hand up. But if that did not work, they wanted to be there to give a handout as well.

This is not to say that the experts agreed on the means. Some favored children’s allowances, others public employment programs, others wage supplements. But by the mid-1960s a very rough consensus began to develop among many economists behind straightforward income maintenance which would give people cash assistance up to certain minimum levels. Liberal advocates, such as the British economist Robert Theobald, favored income maintenance as a basic right of citizenship. Conservatives, such as Milton Friedman, hailed the idea as an alternative to what they considered to be the wasteful system of welfare that then existed. In calling in 1962 for a “negative income tax” which would guarantee all families of four at least $1,500, Friedman gladly anticipated the abolition of the massive welfare bureaucracy in Washington.[58]

By the late 1960s support by experts for negative income taxes or floors under income had become widespread. In 1968; 1,300 economists at almost 150 institutions signed a petition urging Congress to adopt a “national system of income guarantee supplements.” Liberal social workers, though anxious to preserve most of the existing welfare programs, agreed with the idea, by then virtually an axiom among reformers, that all people had a right to a minimum income. Other reformers welcomed the chance offered by talk of floors to campaign for the further nationalization of public assistance and the elimination of state-by-state variations in coverage and benefits. In 1969 the so-called Heineman Commission, which had been established by President Johnson to investigate the feasibility of income maintenance plans, endorsed a “universal income supplement program …. making cash payments to all members of the population with income needs.”[59]

Doubts about the workability of such plans of course persisted. Many observers refused to believe that the Internal Revenue Service, or any other Washington agency, could effectively manage such a colossal task. Social workers worried that advocates like Friedman were bent on putting them out of business, and on depriving poor families of the expert case work that social work provided. Some liberals feared that income maintenance plans would institutionalize a low income standard to which already inadequate wage rates would tumble. And many observers wondered how to preserve work incentives under income maintenance schemes. Why should low-income workers continue to try to get ahead, they asked, if nonworkers could get as much (or almost as much) from a government dole? Friedman and others answered by recommending sliding benefits which would decrease as earned income increased, but always leave the workers ahead of the nonworker. Doubts, however, were not easily dispelled, and the question of incentives continued to dominate debate over all such proposals.[60]

Despite these problems, income maintenance in some form seemed by 1970 an idea whose time had come. Experts conceded that details remained to be worked out, but insisted, in keeping with the egalitarian temper of the time, that all people were entitled to minimum incomes. Where reformers in the 1930s had concerned themselves with equity—hence the insurance principles that underlay social security—the experts of the late 1960s spoke about “entitlements” and “rights.” They sought not only equality of opportunity but also greater equality of result. In this way, as in many others, the decade of the 1960s represented a break with the past.

Nothing made this development so clear as the willingness of the supposedly conservative Nixon administration to endorse a version of income maintenance in 1969. Nixon called for a Family Assistance Plan (FAP) that promised to guarantee all families with children a minimum of $500 per adult and $300 per child, or $1,600 per year for two-parent families of four. The plan also included provisions to preserve work incentives. Though it stopped short of universalizing income guarantees—money went only to poor families with children—it seemed a great step forward at the time.

Supporters of the plan noted that it promised especially to aid the poorest of the poor—people in the Southern states where welfare benefits were lower than $1,600 per year for families of four. The program also extended assistance to the working poor with children, whether female-headed or not. Impressed, The Economist asserted that FAP “may rank in importance with President Roosevelt’s first proposal for a social security system in the mid-1930s.”[61]

The plan secured approval in the House but then stalled in the Senate. In 1972, after three years of infighting, it failed of passage. Many forces contributed to its downfall. Northern advocates of welfare reform, including representatives of the ghetto poor, complained that the floor was much too low—lower, in fact, than AFDC benefits already being extended in non-Southern states. Other reformers lamented that FAP excluded poor people without children, perhaps 20 per cent of the poverty population. Critics deplored especially the “workfare” provisions that Nixon had included in the bill. These required adult recipients (save the aged, disabled, and mothers with preschool children) to accept “suitable” training or work, or forfeit their benefits. Proponents of the plan contended that the “workfare” provisions would not be used to force people into low-paying employment, indeed that workfare was largely rhetoric aimed at appeasing conservatives. Unpersuaded, liberal reformers were cool to the plan.

Many conservatives, too, opposed FAP. The Chamber of Commerce took out full-page newspaper advertisements that proclaimed, “FAP would triple our welfare rolls. Double our welfare costs.” They grumbled that it would deprive the economy of cheap labor and sap the work ethic. In, devastating examinations of the plan, they showed that it could severely harm work incentives. They emphasized that any attempt to place a floor under income clashed with durable values and beliefs: in self-help, in state and local administration, in personalized management of social services. In dismissing FAP, the conservative opponents held to the familiar in their lives.[62]

At the last moment, advocates of welfare reform managed to secure passage of a measure that received much less attention than the controversial FAP. That was the Supplemental Security Income program. SSI, as it was called, was approved with little fanfare in 1972. It established an income floor under benefits paid to the less controversial categories of public assistance—the aged, blind, and disabled. These previously separate programs were henceforth administered as one, and funded entirely by the federal government. Most people who qualified got benefits considerably more generous than before 1972. Equally gratifying to reformers, SSI meant a uniform, national program-not the patchwork of varied state and local plans that had obtained until that time. To that considerable extent the advocates of floors achieved a long-sought goal.

Why did Congress approve SSI and scrap FAP? The reasons were instructive—and not very reassuring to advocates of floors. It did so first because SSI offered states some relief, and second because the aged, disabled, and blind were “deserving” in ways that “welfare mothers” were not. Third, SSI received little publicity before passage and did not stir up potential opponents. As with food stamps, Medicaid, and increases in social security, passage of SSI suggested that the best way ofgetting social welfare measures through Congress was to sell them quietly as modest, incremental improvements. Grandiloquent talk about “welfare reform” or “floors for all” alerted opponents, who mobilized effectively.

Advocates of floors under income for all (or at least for families with dependent children) therefore were not much gladdened by passage of SSI. Clearly, there still existed no popular consensus behind the principle of income maintenance, or even of national administration of AFDC. General assistance for “unemployables” remained wholly in the hands of states and towns. And the millions of working poor who did not qualify for categorical assistance in most cases received no help at all. Remedying these durable defects in the American social welfare system continued to be high on the liberal agenda in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[63]

But the 1970s and early 1980s were not conducive to major social reforms. President Jimmy Carter appealed for passage of a welfare reform measure similar to FAP, but got nowhere. Advocates of national health insurance or large-scale programs of public employment fared no better. On the contrary, they had to confront optimists who proclaimed with some justification that the economic progress of the 1960s had greatly diminished poverty, that social welfare spending (especially for SSI and social security) continued to increase as a percentage of GNP and of total government expenditures, and that welfare programs needed only incremental reform. The optimists added that most poor people knew of their enhanced rights, applied for aid, and received it—that the experiences that had cowed and stigmatized poor people in 1930 no longer took place.

At the same time, the combination of inflation and recession in the later 1970s gave ammunition to those who argued that the nation could not afford a heavy bill for welfare, and that economic recovery required government retrenchment and tax cuts to stimulate investment. Aggressive, self-confident conservatives further asserted that welfare was destroying the work ethic, even eroding the nation’s moral fiber. They trumpeted for cutbacks in food stamps, AFDC, and Medicaid and for the tightening of relief administration. Advisers to President Ronald Reagan, who swept into the White House in 1981, even pushed to reduce spending for certain social security benefits—which since 1935 had been almost sacrosanct politically. Congress proved surprisingly sympathetic to such proposals, and supported cutbacks in the provision of welfare. Certainly, in the conservative mood of the early 1980s, middle-class attitudes traditionally hostile to public welfare seemed as strong as ever, and no new rediscovery of poverty—or liberal reform of welfare—appeared in sight.

6. Guide to Further Reading

Students interested in historical works dealing with poverty in America will do well to begin with Robert H. Bremner, From the Depths: The Discovery ofPoverty in the United States (New York UP, 1956), a balanced, readable account of poverty from the 1830s to the 1920s. Another broad study is Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1978). Walter I. Trattner’s From Poor Lazes to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America (New York: Free Press, 1974) is a useful brief survey, while James T. Patterson, The Struggle Against Poverty in America, 1930-1980 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1981) provides the most recent full treatment of the subject.

Books that deal with poverty and social welfare in the early twentieth century include Roy Lubove, Struggle for Social Security, 1900-1935 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1968), as well as his The Professional Altruist, 1880-1930 (1965);[12] Allen Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890-1914 (New York: Oxford UP, 1967); and Daniel Nelson, Unemployment Insurance: The American Experience, 1915-1935 (1969).[14] The most important contemporary sources are Jacob Hollander, Abolition of Poverty (1914);[9] Robert Kelso, Poverty (New York: Longman’s, Green, 1929); and especially Robert Hunter, Poverty (New York: Macmillan, 1904), a classic account of poverty at the turn of the century.

The literature dealing with poverty and welfare in the 1930s grows more voluminous. Useful contemporary accounts include Edith Abbott, Public Assistance (1940);[1] and Josephine Brown, Public Relief, 1929-1939 (1940).[3] Studies of the poor include several thoughtful works by E. Wight Bakke, notably his The Unemployed Worker (1940).[27] See also such collections of case studies as Clinch Catkins, Some Folks Won’t Work (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930); Federal Writers’ Project, These Are Our Lives (1939);[1] Martha Gellhorn, The Trouble I Have Seen (New York: Morrow, 1938); and Tom E. Terrill and Jerrold Hirsch, Such As Us: Southern Voices of the Thirties (Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1978).

For federal policy in the 1930s, see Harry Hopkins, Spending to Sane: The Complete Story of Relief (New York: Harper & Row, 1936); Donald Howard, The WPA and Federal Relief Policy (1943);[26] and National Resources Planning Board, Security, Work, and Relief Policies (1942). An intelligent monograph on the subject is Barbara Blumberg, The New Deal and the Unemployed: The View from New York City (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell UP, 1979). Major sources on the early years of social security include Arthur J. Altmeyer, The Formative Years of Social Security (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1966); and Edwin E. Witte, The Development of the Social Security Act (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1963). For important general works on the 1930s, consult William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (1963);[22] and William Stott, Documentary Expression and Thirties America (New York: Oxford UP, 1973). J. Wayne Flynt, Dixie’s Forgotten People: The South’s Poor Whites (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1979) covers that subject competently.

A large body of works now exists on nonwhite poverty in America. Among the most accessible are Kenneth Clark, Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power (New York: Harper & Row, 1965); and Lee Rainwater, Behind Ghetto Walls: Black Families in a Federal Slum (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1970). Elliot Liebow’s Tally’s Corner: A Study ofNegro Streetcorner Men (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967), is an especially cogent work. For black life prior to World War II, the starting place remains the massive study headed by Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (New York, London: Harper, 1944), but see also Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto (1966).[11]

Sources covering postwar poverty proliferated in the aftermath of the “rediscovery” of the poor in the 1960s. Students new to the subject might begin with Michael Harrington’s The Other America (1962),[34] which exposed the neglect of the poor, and with three excellent collections of essays by social scientists, Daniel P. Moynihan, ed., On Understanding Poverty (1968);[41] Louis Ferman, et al., Poverty in America (Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1965); and Jeremy Larner and Irving Howe, eds., Poverty: Views from the Left (New York: Morrow, 1969). For the “culture of poverty” debate, see Oscar Lewis, La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty—San Juan and New York (New York: Random House, 1965), and Charles A. Valentine, Culture of Poverty: Critique and Counter proposals (Chicago UP, 1968).

Of the many sources that focus on policy-making in the field of welfare and social security, 1940-1970, among the most readable and authoritative are those by James Sundquist, Gilbert Steiner, and Martha Derthick. See especially Sundquist, Politics and Policy: The Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Administrations (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1968), and his edited collection, On Fighting Poverty: Perspectives from Experience (New York: Basic Books, 1969). Steiner’s major works include Social Insecurity: The Politics of Welfare (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966) and The State of Welfare (1971).[61] For Derthick, see Uncontrollable Spending for Social Service Grants (1975),[57] and Policy­making for Social Security (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1979). See also Winifred Bell, Aid to Dependent Children (ICY.: Columbia UP, 1965); and especially Kirstin Grenberg, Mass Society and the Extension of Welfare, 1960-1970 (1977).[52] Piven and Cloward’s Regulating the Poor (1971)[12] is an unbalanced leftist critique of policy.

The literature on the “war on poverty” is larger than that ill-fated program merited. Students wishing to cut through the voluminous writing should begin with John Donovan, The Politics of Poverty (1973),[43] a solid account which establishes the political background, and with Robert Levine’s The Poor Ye Need Not Have With You (1970)[46] for an evaluation. They may then turn to Daniel P. Moynihan’s engaging but overstated critique of the war on poverty—and of contemporary social science: Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War Against Poverty (New York: Free Press, 1969).

Some source carry the story into the 1970s. In addition to Derthick’s works noted above, consult the excellent overview by Henry Aaron, Politics and the Professors: The Great Society in Perspective (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1978); also H. Haveman, ed., A Decade of Federal Antipoverty Programs: Achievements, Failures, and Lessons (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1977); and Robert D. Plotnick and Felicity Skidmore, Progress Against Poverty, 1964-1974 (1975).[4] For the story of President Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan, see Vincent and Vee Burke, Nixon’s Good Deed: Welfare Reform (1974).[62]

Comparative studies offer some perspective on the American experience. These include Otto Eckstein, ed., Studies in the Economics of Income Maintenance (1967);[32] Heidenheimer, Heelo, and Adams, Comparative Public Policy (1975);[30] Hugh Heclo, Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden: From Relief to Income Maintenance (New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 1974); and Gaston Rimlinger, Welfare Policy and Industrialization in Europe, America, and Russia (1971).[16]

7. Notes

  1. Edith Abbott, Public Assistance, 2 vols. (Chicago UP, 1940), vol. I, pp. 35, 125-36, 174-75, 220-23. Back
  2. G.V. Rimlinger, “American Social Security in a European Perspective,” in William G. Bowen, et al., eds., The American System of Social Insurance (ICY.:McGraw Hill, 1968). Back
  3. Roy Lubove, “Economic Security and Social Conflict in America,” Journal of Social History,1 (1967-68), pp. 61-87 and 325-50; Josephine C. Brown, Public Relief, 1928-1939 (ICY.: Henry Holt, 1940), 380. Back
  4. Abbott, vol. 1, pp. 190, 220-23; Sophonisba Breckenridge, Public Welfare Administration in the United States (Chicago UP, 1927), pp. 708-09. Back
  5. Howard Odum, “Public Welfare Activities,” in President’s Research Committee on Social Trends, Recent Social Trends in the United States (ICY.: McGraw-Hill, 1933), pp. 1224-73; and U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial times to 1957 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing office, 1961), p. 193. Back
  6. See Wesley Mitchell’s introduction, Committee on Recent Economic Change in the United States of the President’s Conference on Unemployment, Recent Economic Changes in the United States (ICY.:McGraw-Hill, 1929), p.xx. Back
  7. Stephan Thernstrom, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880-1970 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1973), pp. 243-44. Back
  8. F. Walker, “The Causes of Poverty,” Century,55 (1897-98), pp. 210-16. Back
  9. Jacob Hollander, Abolition of Poverty (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1914), pp. 5, 16. For the Progressives, see J.A. Thompson, Progressivism (1979),the second pamphlet in this series. Back
  10. Maurice Leven, et al., America’s Capacity to Consume (Washington, D.C.: Brooking Institution, 1934),passim. Back
  11. Quoted in Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890-1920 (ICY.: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 149. Back
  12. Broad interpretations include William Ryan, Blaming the Victim (ICY.: Vintage, 1976);Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (ICY.:Vintage, 1971);and Roy Lubove, The Profesional Altruist: The Emergence of Social Work as a Career, 1880-1930 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1965). Back
  13. See Eugene Durman, “Have the Poor Been Regulated? Toward a Multivariate Understanding of Welfare Growth,” Social Service Review,47 (1973), pp. 339-50;and Gerald Grob, “Reflections on the History of Social Policy in America,” Reviews in American History, 7 (1979), pp. 293-308. Back
  14. Daniel Nelson, Unemployment Insurance: The American Experience, 1915-1935 (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1969), pp. 11-46. Back
  15. Daniel T. Rodgers, The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850-1920 (Chicago UP, 1978). Back
  16. Gaston V. Rimlinger, Welfare Policy and Industrialisation in Europe, America, and Russia (ICY.: Wiley, 1971). Back
  17. Federal Writers’ Project, These Are Our Lines (Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1939), pp. 366. Back
  18. National Resources Planning Board, Security, Work, and Relief Policies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1942), pp. 24, 130-33, 445-49. Back
  19. Unemployment Census File, Official File 2948, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; Bernard Sternsher, “Counting the Unemployed and Recent Economic Developments,” in Sternsher, ed., The New Deal (ICY.: Forum Press, 1979), pp. 101-03. Back
  20. Herman Miller, “The Dimensions of Poverty,” in Ben B. Seligman, ed., Poverty as a Public Issue (ICY.: Free Press, 1965), pp. 20-51. Back
  21. Brown, Public Relief, p. ix. Back
  22. William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt & The New Deal, 1932-1940 (ICY.: Harper & Row, 1963), esp. Chapter 6. Back
  23. Pierce Williams to Hopkins, 31 Aug. 1933,Hopkins papers, Roosevelt Library. See also James T. Patterson, The New Deal and the States: Federalism in Transition (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton UP, 1969). Back
  24. Hopkins’ speech, 14 March 1936,Hopkins papers; Samuel Rosenman, ed., Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt (ICY.: Random House, 1938-50), vol. 5, pp. 19-21. Back
  25. Edwin E. Witte, The Development of the Social Security Act (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1963). Back
  26. Donald S. Howard, The WP.4 and Federal Relief Policy (ICY.: Russell Sage Foundation, 1943). Back
  27. See W.W. Bremen “Along the ‘American Way’: The New Deal’s Work Relief Programs for the Unemployed, “Journal of American History, 42 (1975), pp. 636-52; and E. Wight Bakke, The Unemployed Worker: A Study of the Task of Making a Lining Without a Job (New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 1940). Back
  28. Jules Berman, “Public Assistance under the Social Security Act, “Industrial and Labor Relations Review,14(1960), pp. 83-93; and Winifred Bell, Aid to Dependent Children (ICY.: Columbia UP, 1965). Back
  29. Eveline M. Burns, “Where Welfare Falls Short,” Public Interest, l (Fall,1965), pp. 82-95. Back
  30. Arnold J. Heidenheimer, Hugh Heclo, and Carolyn Teich Adams, Comparative Public Policy: The Politics of Social Choice in Europe and America (ICY.:St Martin’s Press, 1975), pp. 195-96. Back
  31. Frank J. Bruno, Trends in Social Work, 1874-1956 (ICY.: Columbia UP, 1957), pp. 309-10. Back
  32. Evaluations include H.J. Aaron, “Social Security: International Comparisons,” in Otto Eckstein, ed., Studies in the Economics of Income Maintenance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1967), pp. 13-68. For a fuller treatment of these years, see J.T. Patterson, “Poverty and Welfare in Postwar America,” in Gary W. Reichard and Robert H. Bremner, eds., Reshaping America: Society and Institutions, 1945-1960 (Columbus: Ohio State UP, forthcoming in 1982). Back
  33. R. Nisbet, “The Decline and Fall of Social Class,” Pacific Historical Review,2(1959), pp. 11-17. For a critique of views like these, see John Pease, et al., “Ideological Currents in American Stratification Literature,” American Sociologist, 5 (1970), pp. 127-37. Back
  34. Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States (ICY.:Macmillan, 1962), p. 10. Back
  35. See Low Income Families and Economic Stability: Materials on the Problem of Low Income Families,Sen. Doc. 231, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., 1950; and Characteristics of the Low Income Population and Related Federal Programs, Joint Committee on the Economic Report, Subcommittee on Low Income Families, 84th Cong., 1st Sess., 1955. Back
  36. E.g., Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin, Delinquency and Opportunity: A Theory of Delinquent Gangs (ICY.:Free Press, 1960). Back
  37. D.J. Kallen and Dorothy Miller, “Public Attitudes Toward Welfare,” Social Work, 16 (1971), pp. 83-90; and J.R. Feagin, “America’s Welfare Stereotypes,” Social Science Quarterly, 52 (1972), pp. 921-33. Back
  38. E.g. Piven and Cloward, Regulating the Poor (1971). Back
  39. Stigler, “The Economist and the State,” American Economic Review, 55 (1965), pp. 130-33. Back
  40. James N. Morgan, Martin H. David, Wilbur J. Cohen, and Harvey Z. Brazer, Income and Welfare in the United States (ICY.:McGraw-Hill, 1962), pp. 3-7. Back
  41. Daniel Moynihan, ed., On Understanding Poverty: Perspectives from the Social Sciences (ICY.: Basic Books, 1968); and President’s Commission on Income Maintenance Programs, 1969, Poverty Amid Plenty: The American Paradox (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1969). Back
  42. C.E. Gilbert, “Policy-Making in Public Welfare: The 1962 Amendments,” Political Science Quarterly, 81 (1966), pp. 196-224. Back
  43. John C. Donovan, The Politics of Poverty (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrily 2d ed., 1973). Back
  44. “Poverty, U.S.A.,” Newsweek, 63 (17 Feb. 1964), p. 38. Back
  45. Joseph A. Kershaw, Government Against Poverty (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1970), pp. 161-69. Back
  46. Adam Yarmolinsky, in “Poverty and Urban Policy,” Conference Transcript of 1973 Group Discussion of the Kennedy Administration’s Urban Programs and Policies, Kennedy Library (Dorchester, Mass.), p. 302. A balanced evaluation is Robert Levine, The Poor Ye Need Not Have With You: Lessons from the War on Poverty (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1970). Back
  47. Robert D. Plotnick and Felicity Skidmore, Progress Against Poverty: A Review of the 1964-1974 Decade (ICY.:Academic Press, 1975), pp. 82-83; R.J. Lampman, “Growth, Prosperity, and Inequality Since 1947,” Wilson Quarterly, 1 (1977), pp. 143-55. Back
  48. J.B. Williamson and K.M. Hyer, “The Measurement and Meaning of Poverty,” Social Problems,22(1975), pp. 652-62; Mollie Orshansky, “How Poverty is Measured,” Monthly Labor Review, 92 (1969), pp.37-41. Back
  49. Herman Miller, “Changes in the Number and Composition of the Poor,” in Margaret S. Gordon, ed., Poverty in America (Berkeley: California UP, 1965), pp. 81-101. Back
  50. L.E. Lynn, Jr., “Policy Developments in the Income Maintenance System,” in Robert Haveman, ed., A Decade of Federal Antipoverty Programs: Achievements, Failures, and Lessons (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1977), pp. 55-117. Back
  51. Levine, Poor Ye Need Not Have, pp.185-86. Back
  52. Kirstin Grenbjerg, Mass Society and the Extension of Welfare, 1960-1970 (Chicago UP, 1977), ch. 3; R.D. Plotnick, “Social Welfare Expenditures: How Much Help for the Poor?” Policy Analysis, 5 (1979), pp. 271-89; M. MacDonald, “Food Stamps: An Analytical History, “ Social Service Review, 51(1977), pp. 642-58. Back
  53. Andrew Achenbaum, Old Age in the New Land: The American Experience Since 1790 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978), p. 144. Back
  54. Lynn, “Policy Developments”; Frederick Doolittle, Frank Levy, and Michael Wiseman, “The Mirage of Welfare Reform,” Public Interest, 47 (Spring, 1977), pp. 62-87. Back
  55. Joe R. Feagin, Subordinating the Poor: We fare and American Beliefs (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1975), ch. 5. Back
  56. The analysis in these paragraphs relies on Grenbjerg, Mass Society, pp.51-55, 167-68; R.A. Levine and D.W. Lyon, “Studies in Public Welfare: A Review Article,” Journal of Human Resources,10(1975), pp. 445-66; and Heather L. Ross and Isabel V. Sawhill, Time of Transition: The Growth of Families Headed by Women (Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 1975), pp. 17-18, 101-23. Back
  57. Martha Perthick, Uncontrollable Spending for Social Service Grants (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1975), pp. 20-22, 35-36, 71-72. Back
  58. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago UP, 1962), pp. 190-95. Back
  59. Martin Anderson, Welfare: The Political Economy of Welfare Reform in the United States (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford UP, 1978), pp. 72-73; President’s Commission on Income Maintenance, Poverty Amid Plenty, pp.7, 52-53. Back
  60. See M.N. Ozawa, “Issues in Welfare Reform,” Social Service Review, 52 (1978), pp. 37-55. Back
  61. Quoted in G.Y. Steiner, The State of Welfare (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1971), pp. 76-77. Back
  62. Vincent and Vee Burke, Nixon’s Good Deed: Welfare Reform (ICY.: Columbia UP, 1974), esp. pp. 130-38, 155, 161-64. Back
  63. For an up-to-date account of persisting poverty and associated problems, see Philip Davies, The Metropolitan Mosaic: Problems of the Contemporary City (1980), the fourth pamphlet in this series, esp. pp. 10-17. Back

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