As we approach the twenty-first century, an examination of elements of the passing century may help us plan better for the future. So much has changed since 1900 that it seems almost a completely different world. Almost nothing we think of as "modern"--cars, planes, medical care, electronics--existed to any degree in the early 1900s. The Social Security Act, signed August 14, 1935, in its now twenty titles, provides help for those in need--the elderly, mothers and children, the unemployed, those with disabilities. It is a different world.
The more things change, though, the more they seem like the same things. While we provide help for the needy, the poor, and the old, we are deeply suspicious both of "them" and of "helping them." Themes articulated as the century closes about the poor, their need to work, and the unnecessary benefits they receive are much the same as those articulated as the century opened. Historically, the thinking was that if "poverty" was bad, "pauperism"-- accepting help for being poor--was worse. It destroyed the individual's independence. As Rauschenbusch commented, "To accept charity is at first one of the most bitter experiences of the self-respecting workingman. Some abandon families, go insane, or commit suicide rather than surrender the virginity of their independence. But when they have once learned to depend on gifts, the parasitic habit of mind grows upon them, and it becomes hard to wake them back to self-support" ( 1911, 238).
Almost seventy-five years later, a "New York Times" article by Frank Levy announced, "A Growing Gap between Rich and Poor" ( Levy 1988). And