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

By Jeff Singleton | Go to book overview

quire some big changes in the excessively ideological stance with which activists on the Right and the left approach welfare. 16 The conservatives will have to curb the apparently irresistible tendency to use the welfare issue as a club to beat liberals over their heads. The view that welfare is a liberal program that has caused poverty, an analysis that few serious scholars of the welfare state support, must be abandoned. Conservatives might even admit that their opposition to universal health care and public employment has contributed to welfare dependence. Liberals and welfare rights activists will also have to do some serious soul-searching. They will have to abandon the currently popular view on the Left that all welfare reforms must be opposed because they derive from myths about welfare recipients or efforts to drive women into the labor market. More importantly, they will also have to resist the appeal of a welfare rights strategy that creates the appearance of bringing back the old system--burrowing into the implementation process to try to carve out exemptions for various classes of recipients, liberalizing work requirements to make them useless and using court challenges to reverse losses in the political arena. This will be an extremely difficult tendency to resist since the advocacy approach to welfare that has dominated since the 1970s is enormously comfortable with these tactics. Finally, the Left will need to stop complaining and present a positive agenda for reform that is politically realistic. This will require less emphasis on attacking the myths that justify welfare reform and more on promoting those aspects of the reform program that help low-wage workers--day care subsidies, job- training programs and, above all, universal health coverage. 17

The 1996 reforms do not change welfare as radically as both supporters and critics of the new law seem to believe. But they do create a window of opportunity to expand programs for the working poor, reduce the role of means-tested relief and perhaps transform the nature of the debate over the American "dole."


NOTES
1.
The national relief drive sponsored by the President's Committee on Unemployment Relief was clearly modeled on the Liberty Loan drives of World War I and the Commmunity Chest campaigns they spawned in the 1920s. For an analysis of the CWA that stresses its origins in the efficiency movement of the World War I era see Bonnie Fox Schwarz, The Civil Works Administration ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 11-14.
2.
The Gallup Poll, Vol. I ( New York: Random House, 1972), 98.
3.
See especially Ellis Hawley, The Great War and the Search for a Modern Order, 2nd ed. ( New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992); Louis Galambos, "Technology, Political Economy and Professionalization: Central Themes of the Organizational Synthesis," Business History Review 57 (Winter 1983): 471-493; Brian Balogh, "Reorganizing the Organizational Synthesis,"

-217-

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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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