The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression

By Jeff Singleton | Go to book overview

Mothers' Aid programs and the professionalization of social work, they created new agencies to which low-wage workers could apply and tended to reduce the stigma of applying for aid. The result was a public relief system that perhaps more closely resembled a "dole" than the British system of unemployment compensation. This fact became painfully evident during the early years of the depression, as relief became the only alternative for millions of unemployed workers. The irony was not lost on Jacob Billikopf, a leader of Philadelphia's private emergency relief organization. Speaking to the National Conference on Social Work in the spring of 1931, Billikopf noted:

If the spirit of irony . . . were hovering over this land, he would find a source of sardonic amusement in the spectacle of a country which for a decade has protested that it did not want unemployment insurance because it was a dole, and which so protests, slowly realizing that under its boasted American methods all that it can offer to those most in need is the real dole of public or private charity. 86

As Billikopf spoke, the issue of federal aid for unemployment relief was moving to the center of the political agenda.


NOTES
1.
Anne E. Geddes, Trends in Relief Expenditures, 1910-1935 (WPA Research Monograph No. 10) ( Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1937), 6-15.
2.
ibid., xiii.
3.
The studies reviewed by Geddes were, in fact, the product of increasing concern about the "mounting bill for relief." These studies and the discussion of relief they encouraged in the journals of social work are key sources for this chapter. See John B. Dawson, "The Significance of the Rise in Relief-Giving during the Past Five Years: Its Relationship to Increased Costs and the Adequacy of Relief," Proceedings of the National Conference on Social Work [hereafter NCSW] ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1922), 228-236; Ralph Hurlin, "The Mounting Bill for Relief" and Raymond Clapp, "Relief in Nineteen Northern Cities," both in Survey 58, no. 4 ( November 15, 1926): 207-211; "When Relief Soared," Survey 62, no. 6 ( June 15, 1929): 352. For more developed analyses of the causes of the increase in relief see Edward E. Lynde, "The Significance of Changing Methods in Relief Giving," The Family 8, no. 5 ( July 1927): 135-136; Linton Swift, "The Relief Problem in Family Social Work," The Family 10, no. 1 ( March 1929): 3.
4.
Walter I. Trattner, From Poor Law to Welfare State, 6th ed. ( New York: Free Press, 1979), ch. 10; Michael Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse ( New York: Basic Books, 1986), 208. For a more negative assessment of developments in the 1920s see James T. Patterson America's Struggle against Poverty ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 27-30.
5.
Barbara J. Nelson, "The Origins of the Two-Channel Welfare State: Workmen's Compensation and Mothers' Aid,"

-48-

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The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in American History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter 1 - Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State 1
  • Notes 18
  • Chapter 2 - The "Rising Tide of Relief" 27
  • Notes 48
  • Chapter 3 - The Myth of Voluntarism 57
  • Notes 82
  • Chapter 4 - The National Dole 93
  • Notes 120
  • Chapter 5 - Work Relief 131
  • Notes 160
  • Chapter 6 - Ending the Dole as We Knew It 173
  • Notes 199
  • Conclusion 209
  • Notes 217
  • Appendix - Relief Estimates and the Children's Bureau Series 221
  • Notes 224
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 239
  • About the Author 245
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