THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF U.S. WELFARE POLICY
To set the stage upon which the drama of the most recent episodes of welfare reform have unfolded, this chapter analyzes just enough of the history and development of U.S. welfare policy to shed light upon the central features of recent policy debates. Chapter 3 explains the details of the welfare reform law of 1996. This present chapter concludes with a brief consideration of one of the most frequently debated topics with profound implications for how America regards its poorest members: the role of private charitable organizations and other faith-based voluntary efforts to alleviate poverty and provide social services.
Because this part of our study is concerned with political and sociohistorical realities rather than theological argumentation, its methodology is quite different from that of the previous chapter on Catholic social teaching. Chapter 1 appeals to theological principles to consider how certain policy directions might be justified on moral grounds. By contrast, chapters 2 and 3 make only the most minimal ethical assumptions in evaluating the feasibility and desirability of policy proposals. Moreover, as we analyze various policy rationales in these chapters, we will have occasion to appeal to what is often loosely referred to as American political culture. This term from political science refers to a set of generally shared convictions and commonly revered norms for determining which social practices are fair and desirable. It would, of course, be simplistic to claim that unanimous agreement reigns among all Americans on any topic, particularly on the contested terrain of social policy. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify a relatively stable core of public opinion regarding the kinds of institutions and practices that are fair and desirable.1 As would be expected in any democracy, the convictions prevalent among the American populace play an influential (if not determining) role in public policy formation. Indeed, our public laws and social policies may be viewed as a text from which a