Poverty in America: The Welfare Dilemma

Poverty in America: The Welfare Dilemma

Poverty in America: The Welfare Dilemma

Poverty in America: The Welfare Dilemma


"Poverty in America is a wide-ranging, informed, and clear-headed analysis of American poverty and the American welfare system. It appears at a time when various illusions and hopes about what we could do about poverty through government action and programs have been generally abandoned, and it argues persuasively that in overcoming poverty we must concentrate not on new structures of dependency on government but on the two age-old mechanisms that have worked in the past and should work in the future -- work and education. It should become a basic text for future studies of poverty and welfare." Nathan Glazer, Harvard University


Two different principles--equality of opportunity and delivered equality --define the crucial issue in the debate over America's social welfare proposals for alleviating poverty. Historically, equality of opportunity has meant that a democratic society is obligated to provide equal access to jobs, education, services, and, finally, improved life conditions. The tasks and duties of such an egalitarian society are to make a set of choices available to all. Viewed in this way, poverty is not a structural aberration. Welfare policies are therefore directed toward attracting the individual/ family upward from poverty and toward putting success within reach of anyone who seeks it. The viability of these policies requires that equal opportunity be made genuinely available to all.

The principle of delivered equality maintains that within the democratic order equality is a right and not an opportunity. Accordingly, society must provide every person with quality jobs, education, services, and comfortable life conditions.

The first position, equality of opportunity, assumes that each individual possesses free will. Given the appropriate availability of choices, then, man has the learned capacity to make critical decisions about his life at present and in the future. The democratic order can therefore provide only choices; in the final analysis, the willing, thinking person must choose and thus act.

The second position, delivered equality, is clearly deterministic for its premise is that man is shaped by factors beyond the individual's control. The current rhetoric emphasizes that man has become a mere object or, at best, an underclass citizen whose movements are controlled by forces beyond self. Thus, the state must ultimately be the dispenser of provisions.

In this book, we contend that social welfare policies based on the premise of delivered equality negates the norm of reciprocity under which each person is expected to supply a quid for each quo consumed. This position has become a self-fulfilling prophecy for those it claims to benefit because it frequently leads to the conclusion that man is indeed a victim.

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