Subordinating the Poor: Welfare and American Beliefs

Subordinating the Poor: Welfare and American Beliefs

Subordinating the Poor: Welfare and American Beliefs

Subordinating the Poor: Welfare and American Beliefs

Excerpt

Concern with poverty and welfare aid for the very poor has been a roller coaster phenomenon over the last few centuries of Western history, rising and falling with such things as changes in economic conditions, in political protest, and the character of political leadership.This oscillation has characterized not only the governing elites but the public as well; in the three centuries of American development, both public interest and government action in the area of relief for the poor have fluctuated significantly.Not that poverty and welfare have ever been neutral issues for most Americans—indeed, few topics have generated more mixed feelings or even hostility.Yet it is only periodically that public attention and discussion have focused so intensely on these issues that concrete action has become a top government priority.

In this country in the 1930s a major depression and consequent political upheaval forced new government action on behalf of the destitute, which resulted in the development of relief programs including those federally subsidized public assistance programs now commonly termed "welfare." In the 1940s and 1950s there seemed to be a relative decrease in government and popular concern with the poor, perhaps the result of an emerging confidence that the "affluent society" had arrived.Particularly in the 1950s, both scholars and government officials emphasized the new wave of prosperity in the United States. In the view of many, poverty was all but vanquished and most citizens would soon be affluent . . .

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