Welfare as We Knew It: A Political History of the American Welfare State

By Charles Noble | Go to book overview

THREE
Progressives

The transition from agriculture to industry, and from small-scale commercial enterprise to large-scale, corporate capitalism transformed the West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Everywhere, reform movements emerged demanding that government tame these new social and economic forces. In the United States, Progressive reformers called for a variety of new institutions and policies. But class and state combined to erect insurmountable barriers to European-style welfare-state building in the United States.

Reformers were not entirely deterred from expanding public provision. Popular concern about the impact of laissez-faire capitalism on everyday life and democratic politics laid the foundation for a first wave of American social policy innovation. But the American welfare state took a different turn than that taken in Western Europe: rather than adopt social-insurance programs to support unemployed or aged male workers, the United States instead experimented with maternal social policies, notably mothers' aid (or "pensions" for widowed mothers) and protective wage and hour legislation designed to protect women and children from abusive working conditions. 1

To be sure, no Western European government replaced private charity and poor relief with national social insurance all at once. 2 But by World War I, most had begun to institutionalize the old-age, health, and unemployment insurance programs that would become the core of the modern welfare state. 3 The United States (did not, either at the state or national level. Publicly funded old-age assistance legislation failed when first considered by Massachusetts in 1903 and failed again when introduced into Congress in 1909. 4 Wisconsin established the nation's first state-level unemployment insurance program only in 1932. 5 National health insurance was roundly defeated. Only state-level workmen's compensation succeeded in the United States at this time. 6

The cultural explanation--that public opinion explains the trajectory taken by the American welfare state in the early twentieth

-36-

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Welfare as We Knew It: A Political History of the American Welfare State
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vi
  • Introduction 3
  • One the Problem 7
  • Two - An Unusually Inhospitable Environment for Reform 19
  • Three - Progressives 36
  • Four - The New Deal 54
  • Five - The Great Society 79
  • Six - Backlash 105
  • Seven the Future of Reform 135
  • Conclusion 151
  • Notes 159
  • Index 201
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