Welfare Politics in Boston, 1910-1940

By Susan Traverso | Go to book overview
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CONCLUSION
PLACING BOSTON IN SOCIAL POLICY THEORIES

THAT WELFARE programs in America are fragmented and limited is a common observation. While other rich industrial nations developed centralized programs of workers' compensation, old age pensions, health insurance, unemployment insurance, and family allowances during the twentieth century, the United States crafted far less universal programs and implemented them at both the state and the federal level. Moreover, a commitment to private means of assuring these social provisions persisted, most notably in the absence of a state-sponsored health insurance program but characteristic, in fact, of all the programs of social provisions established during the twentieth century. The limit of provision was “adequate support, either means-tested or keyed to previous wage force participation. The result has been a semi-welfare state, in terms of the scope, universality, and operation of public welfare provisions. The implementation of such partial programs of social provision and the linking of those programs to private sector and market efforts have narrowed the meaning of the word “welfare” to means-tested public assistance. Rather than suggesting the well-being of all, welfare in the United States is the care and support of the unfortunate poor.

What explains the creation of this semi-welfare state? The traditional explanation for the United States' limited welfare state was that Americans, more than the citizens of other industrialized nations, were strongly wed to liberal notions of individual responsibility and opportunity. Ironically, this theory of limited ideological support for state enlargement came into prominence in the immediate postwar period, a period marked by tremendous growth of the state apparatus, including the expansion of the landmark social provision programs passed during the New Deal. Both critics and advocates of American liberalism helped solidify American exceptionalism during an intense Cold War. They stressed America's intellectual disinclination for public provisions even as the enlargement of New Deal programs

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