Does America Hate the Poor? The Other American Dilemma: Lessons for the 21st Century from the 1960s and the 1970s

By John E. Tropman | Go to book overview

addresses the level of reluctance to provide benefits, the suspicion about the motives for program use which adheres to recipients, and the stigma which often characterizes social positions of poverty and older age. While American society is not totally poorfare in orientation, that perspective is certainly present, vigorous, and a dominant element for the social welfare system in general and the social work profession, in particular, to consider. It impacts the social work profession in several ways.

First, as a profession dedicated to helping those less advantaged in society, we need to understand more fully our culture's indecision and uncertainty about them. While it is often clear to us what programs are needed and what services ought to be provided, others in the system (legislators, administrators, the media) frequently disagree. Social workers are sometimes made to feel that their commitments are the result of an absence of toughness ("bleeding hearts") or an endorsement of dependency. A perspective which outlines the cultural and social structure of the ambivalence our society feels will be helpful.

Second, social workers and members of the social welfare professions will, doubtless, share some of these approach-avoidance orientations toward the poor and the older adult. Being a part of this society makes it impossible to escape. Societal uncertainties become our own as well; therefore, an understanding of the culture helps us toward an understanding of ourselves.

But comparisons between the poor and older citizens may help us do more than understand the contradictions which beset the helping professions. It may help the helpers design more effective intervention techniques. This point means more than "to be forewarned is to be forearmed," though that is certainly an important element. The social attention toward the poor and the old has had some different elements, involving support for the elderly through policy development while suspicion of the poor remained high. Despite Estes ( 1979) claim that policy toward the elderly leaves much undone, one can study the way in which aging policy has articulated, coped, and dealt with American value contradictions, and has done so with much success, as a model which can perhaps be adapted to other groups. In this case, understanding leads to positive action.


CONCLUSION

A welfare state can develop and flourish, then, in a poorfare culture because there are contradictory forces within that culture. Indeed, one might think of the welfare state as in part "counterphobic": We do more because we feel guilty about wanting to do less. Culture is not all of a piece. And there is more than guilt; there is fear. There is fear of them encroaching on us, fear of riots, and fear of facing demands for explanations of our own wealth we cannot answer.

There are also structural pressures. Other countries are doing it, and our politicians want to keep up with the Europeans. Big cataclysms--the Depres-

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Does America Hate the Poor? The Other American Dilemma: Lessons for the 21st Century from the 1960s and the 1970s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Note x
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Part I Who are the Poor, and Does America Hate Them? 1
  • Note 4
  • Chapter 1 How America Hates the Poor 5
  • Conclusion 15
  • Notes 15
  • Chapter 2 Poorfare Culture, Welfare State 17
  • Conclusion 23
  • Part II Pictures in Plenty: Conceptions of the Underclass 25
  • Chapter 3 Laggards and Lushes: Images of the Poor 27
  • Conclusion 43
  • Notes 43
  • Chapter 4 The Decent Poverty Stricken: Images of the Near Poor 45
  • Conclusion 57
  • Chapter 5 The Overseer of the Poor: View from the County Welfare Office 59
  • Conclusion 70
  • Note 71
  • Chapter 6 Mothers: Opinions and Stereotypes 73
  • Conclusion 79
  • Note 80
  • Part III The Life Cycle Poor: Images of the Aged 81
  • Note 83
  • Chapter 7 Images of the Elderly 85
  • Conclusion 91
  • Notes 91
  • Chapter 8 American Culture and the Aged: Stereotypes and Realities 93
  • Conclusion 104
  • Notes 105
  • Chapter 9 What the Public Thinks: Older and Younger Adults 107
  • Conclusion 123
  • Note 123
  • Part IV Why America Hates Poor 125
  • Chapter 10 The Poorfare State: Embodiment and Revelation 129
  • Conclusion 131
  • Chapter 11 Social Exploitation 133
  • Conclusion 142
  • Notes 143
  • Chapter 12: Mirror of Destiny 145
  • Notes 152
  • References 153
  • Bibliography 159
  • Index 169
  • About the Author 173
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