Welfare in the United States: A History with Documents, 1935-1996

Welfare in the United States: A History with Documents, 1935-1996

Welfare in the United States: A History with Documents, 1935-1996

Welfare in the United States: A History with Documents, 1935-1996


Welfare has been central to a number of significant political debates in modern America:

  • What role should the government play in alleviating poverty?
  • What does a government owe its citizens, and who is entitled to help?
  • How have race and gender shaped economic opportunities and outcomes?
  • How should Americans respond to increasing rates of single parenthood?
  • How have poor women sought to shape their own lives and influence government policies?

With a comprehensive introduction and a well-chosen collection of primary documents, Welfare in the United States chronicles the major turning points in the seventy-year history of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Illuminating policy debates, shifting demographics, institutional change, and the impact of social movements, this book serves as an essential guide to the history of the nation's most controversial welfare program.


In the contemporary United States, “welfare” is virtually synonymous with federal cash aid to poor single mothers and their children: Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) before 1996 and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) since then. Yet any number of government assistance programs might also be labeled welfare, including Old Age Assistance, Aid to the Disabled, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, unemployment insurance, public housing, legal services, student grant programs, corporate bailouts, corporate subsidies, and food stamps. Some of these are programs targeted to the poor, but the nation’s most generous social welfare measures—such as Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits—are available to people regardless of income status. By the 1980s, the federal government was spending twenty times as much for Social Security payments as for AFDC grants. The federal government has also spent tremendous sums on veterans, particularly since the creation of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (more commonly known as the GI Bill), which provided veterans with benefits such as pensions and disability assistance, employment preferences, medical care, higher education aid, and a mortgage assistance program, at a cost of $14.5 billion in the decade after World War II. Scholars refer to this broad constellation of federal programs and benefits as the “welfare state,” though Americans make sharp distinctions between aid to the poor and other kinds of federal programs.

Part of what makes the history of welfare so intriguing is precisely the way its definition narrowed dramatically during the twentieth century to focus exclusively on AFDC and how this program was stigmatized. Recipients . . .

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