Does America Hate the Poor? The Other American Dilemma: Lessons for the 21st Century from the 1960s and the 1970s

By John E. Tropman | Go to book overview

respondents in Boston and Kansas City in 1972 thought about those in poverty. Chapter 5 discusses responses from a national survey from about the same time on attitudes of county welfare directors. That study reflects not only the directors' own attitudes, but also their perceptions of the attitudes of the general public. Chapter 6 shares data from a Detroit area study (a survey of Detroit residents mounted every year by the Department of Sociology and the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan) in the mid-1960s. Here, a random sample of Detroit women were asked about public and private agencies, whether they had used them, and what their opinion was about them. Chapter 7 reflects upon images the elderly have of themselves and uses some data from a Louis Harris poll. Chapter 8 extends that investigation and blends in some nonscientific data from a popular magazine in an attempt to assess common factors as well as differences. Chapter 9 considers value change over time, between 1952 and 1978, using data from the National Election Study.

These data have interest to us for several reasons. First, they present a diverse set of assessments on a common theme. Second, all of the assessments were taken during the active period of the welfare state, between about the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. Despite policy attention to both groups at that time (especially the elderly), there remained a substantial negativism. In addition, there does not seem to be a great deal of difference among varying groups of respondents in their negative perceptions of the poor. Thus, for example, respondents in Boston and Kansas City talk about differences between "the lowest class" or welfare class, as they tend to define it, and the "next to the lowest class," or working poor or decent poverty stricken.

The welfare directors (of local departments of welfare) felt themselves value isolated (having values not supported by others in the group) in a sea of hostility and negativism toward themselves and others from a national sample. It is little wonder that, in the "welfare reform" of 1996, many of these offices will have been resized, downsized, rightsized, and totally transformed.

Older adults share with younger adults, a few cultural and ethnic exceptions not withstanding, negative characterizations of elder status. The pictures from plenty are not as positive as we might hope. Indeed, they are so negative and, at times, hostile that the welfare state is not, after all, the appropriate term. The poorfare state is a more appropriate name. It is one of ambivalent attitudes and moralistic overtones, which tends, finally, toward blame and fault. This name--poorfare state--more realistically describes our thinking about the elderly and poor members of our society during the 1960s, the very time when policies toward both groups were in an expanding period.


NOTE
1.
All societies are not like this. Some, like English society, operate more on a "ratchet" principle than a "greasy pole" principle. Turner ( 1960) calls this sponsored and contest mobility. In a ratchet society, you sort of "click in" to your status, and thus do not really use it.

-x-

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