Race, Poverty, and American Cities

By John Charles Boger; Judith Welch Wegner | Go to book overview

Poor Policy
The Legacy of the Kerner Commission for Social Welfare

David Stoesz

The legacy of the Kerner Commission for poor, urban African Americans is inextricably connected to the erratic development of the nation's welfare programs. Rather than assure basic guarantees to all as a right of citizenship, following principles of the welfare states of northern Europe, 1 social programs in the United States have been significantly influenced by localism, capitalism, and racism. 2 The consequence of this for African Americans was a marginalization from the cultural mainstream. Instead of extending the social citizenship of African Americans, public social policy was more often crafted in such a way as to minimize the equality sought by racial minorities. 3 At worst the American welfare state excluded African Americans from basic protections against social and economic insecurity; at best it offered promises of full participation in the culture that were to prove largely illusory.

In response to the civil disorders of the mid- 1960s, much of the Kerner Commission report chronicled the inadequacy of the American welfare state in remedying the social and economic grievances of African Americans. If social programs of the New Deal and the War on Poverty were to prove disappointing, the reassertion of conservatism during the latter part of the twentieth century cast a pall over the prospects of social justice for African Americans.


The New Deal

To the extent that governmental programs are enacted to ameliorate the social and economic dislocations experienced by citizens, the welfare state serves as a useful point of departure in understanding the events that eventually gave rise to the Kerner Commission. Within the American context, the welfare state has evolved in two major expansions of public policy: the

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