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

By Jeff Singleton | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The National Dole

The Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932 created a national "dole," a term that had many of the negative connotations now embodied in the word "welfare." 1 The dole, however, was a somewhat more elastic concept that could be used to justify a range of contradictory positions. Although its notoriety derived from public criticism of the British system of unemployment compensation, it came to be used to disparage whatever one didn't like about American relief policy. Hoover and those to his right generally used it when referring to federal, as opposed to local or state, and public, as against private, relief. Critics, particularly in the social work community, frequently noted that this was an artificial distinction of little use to either the unemployed workers or the beleaguered local agencies dispensing aid to them. Franklin D. Roosevelt and liberals in Congress also attacked doles, but their implicit definition focused on the issue of work: to them, the dole was a degrading and inadequate general relief payment not linked to employment. Public works and work relief programs such as WPA were seen as alternatives to the "direct dole." 2 Social workers, despite efforts to avoid using the term, often applied it to so-called poor law relief, inadequate aid rationed by politically connected local officials without casework. 3 The unemployed themselves, or at least those who spoke for them in protest organizations, often equated the dole with "charity relief" administered by stingy social workers who, in applying the means test, snooped" in the homes of working-class recipients. 4

Yet despite the almost universal opposition to such a policy, a distinctive American "dole" appeared to emerge in response to the fiscal crisis of 1932. In July Congress, without a great deal of enthusiasm, had

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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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