The American Welfare System: Origins, Structure, and Effects

By Howard Gensler | Go to book overview

Preface

Welfare is a constant source of contention in American politics. It has occupied the foreground of the socioeconomic landscape for so long that it is difficult to imagine how the poor survived before welfare programs existed. In times long gone, families had the option of moving out West, staking a claim, and starting a homestead. Widows went off to work in cotton mills. Children contributed to the survival of the family by working in factories. It's very interesting that none of those options exist any longer. The frontier exists only in the movies. In post-industrial America, there is less demand each year for unskilled labor. The law prohibits the employment of child labor. What else is a single unemployed mother with a child to do but draw welfare?

That, interestingly, is the very essence of welfare. As John Drew carefully chronicles, the origins of the American welfare system arise out of the middle class movement to abolish child labor. Poor people did not demand welfare. Rich people did not bestow it as an act of noblesse oblige. The middle class, in an effort to compel attendance in school, abolished the chief competitive activity which kept children out of school: employment. However, once child labor was prohibited, society was compelled to provide welfare to replace the support lost by poor families who were dependent upon the earnings of their children. Historically this country never set out to provide welfare per se. Welfare has been a distasteful means of achieving other objectives in society. That may be why there has been so much dissatisfaction with the concept of welfare in the United States.

This book is divided into two parts. Part I by John Drew explains the origins of the American welfare system. Part II begins with two chapters by myself which empirically examines the structure and effects of the American welfare system. I find that the levels of support are low considering the probability of receiving welfare, and that substantial problems

-ix-

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The American Welfare System: Origins, Structure, and Effects
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • I - The Origins of the American Welfare System 1
  • 1 - The Child and the American Welfare State 3
  • Notes 18
  • 2 - The New View of the Child 23
  • Notes 48
  • 3 - Progressive Priorities 55
  • Notes 69
  • 4 - Child Labor and the Mothers' Pension Movement 73
  • Notes 91
  • 5 - The Democratization of Outdoor Relief 97
  • Notes 120
  • 6 - Child Labor and Southern Patriotism 125
  • Notes 150
  • 7 - Farm Labor and "City-Centered" Child Welfare 155
  • Notes 168
  • 8 - The Case of Mothers' Pensions in Memphis 171
  • Notes 185
  • 9 - The Child and the State 189
  • Notes 194
  • II - The Structure and Effects of Welfare 197
  • 10 - The Structure of the American Welfare System 199
  • Notes 215
  • 11 - Behavioral Effects from Welfare 219
  • Notes 226
  • 12 - Reform 231
  • Notes 235
  • 13 - Welfare Policy: Point and Counterpoint 237
  • Notes 266
  • Bibliography 273
  • Index 289
  • About the Editor and Contributors 295
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