Social Welfare History in the United States
What is the meaning of U.S. social welfare history? Can a look back at events, even of some centuries ago, help us understand the social wel- fare policy of today? This chapter answers these questions. Ultimately, we will find that history helps us identify some persistent themes in U.S. social wel- fare. Though these themes first surfaced in the English heritage of colonial America, they still shape our thinking about many current social welfare policies.
Let's remember, too, that social welfare history, the fifth and final factor in our policy analysis, is also different from the other factors. To be sure, the first four ingredients in our analysis are clearly interdependent—politics, for example, has a part that is economic, a part that is ideological, and a part involving social movements. Yet history is distinctive because it is the only factor that so neatly "contains" the other four. Of course, historical research usually focuses on the economics, politics, ideologies, and social movements of the period under study; after all, discussions of these topics go far toward explaining what makes each historical period unique. As we progress through the seven major periods in U.S. social welfare history, we too will examine these factors. Our examination, however, will not only illuminate each pe- riod; it will also illustrate our model of policy analysis and show its relevance for us as skilled social workers.