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SOCIAL WELFARE POLICY has always been a controversial subject in the United States because of the difference between its perceived and real benefits. Usually public is unable to decide who are social welfare programs designed for and whether they actually benefit the target population. The government on its part fails to convince the public of the benefits and advantages of having various social welfare programs running in the country. Some historians and analysts have attacked the social welfare policy and termed it government's weapon against the able-bodied poor. Katz (1989) contends that the "the core of most welfare reform in America since the early nineteenth-century," has been the assault against the "able-bodied poor" -- a crusade to "define, locate and purge them from the roles of relief." (Katz, 18) Thus social welfare policy becomes an unlikely target of controversy and public uproar. The problem is grounded in vaguely defined and poorly conceived social welfare policy as most people are still confused about the very meaning of 'social welfare' and what are the main objectives of having such a policy.
Harvey et al. (1990) write: "The standard belief goes something like this: First, by "welfare," most people mean cash assistance for needy families provided by the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC). Second, "welfare," so defined, is viewed as a substantial and growing component of American social welfare expenditures. Third, AFDC in particular, and means-tested programs in general, are viewed as the government's primary weapons in combating poverty. Finally, there is, if not a conviction, at least a concern that these massive expenditures have failed to turn the tide in the war against poverty. Many people adopt the even more pessimistic view that welfare actually has contributed to the incidence of poverty. "Welfare," in short, is seen as having failed in its essential goals." (82-83)
Social Welfare has a long and complicated history in the United States. With the abolition of slavery after the Civil war, the country saw an immediate increase in the urban poor, creating numerous problems for the economy and for those who had been affected by the sudden exposure to the free world where they found themselves without any proper means of economic support. "The cities of the upper South - Richmond and Baltimore -- sent forth a sprinkling of black vagrants, as did Florida and North Carolina in the post-Civil War era. These figures indicate a significant presence of migrants in the reformatory's black population. The "flotsam and jetsam" of political economies in transition - whether in rural New York or the post-bellum South -- converged on America's greatest metropolis in search of work, adventure and freedom." (Gupta, 2001)
The assault against the "able-bodied" charge is actually a positive attack against the social welfare policy which is based on the fact that only those poor whop are unable to work should benefit from government's social welfare programs. In other words, social welfare policy is grounded in strict work ethics in order to induce the able-bodied poor to seek employment and become less of a burden on the economy. "From the start, social welfare policy has been shaped by the work ethic and the belief that the provision of benefits to able-bodied persons will weaken their motivation to work. As a result, the cash assistance programs including Social Security benefits, Unemployment Insurance, and Aid To Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) enforce the work ethic either by rewarding higher paid workers over those who earn less or by encouraging able-bodied persons to choose paid labor (no matter what the wage levels or working conditions) over government aid. Such policies have kept the labor market supplied with men who are expected to work productively and provide for their families." (Abramovitz, 1988)
The history of social welfare policy shows that it was originally not a very organized movement and was more or less carried on by community groups who sought to provide relief to those who couldn't possibly become part of the paid labor force such as children and mothers. After the Civil war for example, social welfare policy focused on providing cash assistance to poor families with special emphasis on providing for the children who would otherwise end up in foster homes. Mothers' pension laws were created to provide some monetary relief to poor women without adequate financial support. After the Civil war till the time of First World War, American social welfare policy was mainly designed to benefit poor rural women and children.
Apart from rural women, there was another group that has been the oldest recipients of welfare in the United States, namely the government employees such as teachers, police officers and fire fighters. Much before other groups were included in the social welfare policy, a retirement and pension plan for teachers was in effect in New Jersey. With the passage of time, more states adopted similar retirement policies and plans. The government also realized the need to provide welfare benefits to government employees working in potentially hazardous conditions. By 1911, compensation law was enforced and by the end of 1929, all states except four had a workers' compensation law enacted. After the First World War and throughout twenties, a more expanded social welfare policy was in operation, which sought to provide relief to senior citizens and the blind.
The decade the marked the revolution and rapid evolution of the social welfare policy was 1930s. Immediately after the Depression era of 1929, Federal government intervened to provide relief to the states realizing the states could no longer work in decentralized manner. Federal government took charge of the social welfare policy in 1930s when it announced several relief programs to aid the depression-hit workers and businesses. 1935 was the most crucial year in the development of social welfare policy when President Franklin Roosevelt proposed economic security measures that culminated in the enactment of Social Security Act of 1935. While the Social Security Act can be considered landmark legislation in many regards, it was later attacked as racially motivated. Linda Gordon writes:
In 1935, Social Security excluded the most needy groups from all its programs, even the inferior ones. These exclusions were deliberate and mainly racially motivated, as Congress was then controlled by wealthy southern Democrats who were determined to block the possibility of a welfare system allowing blacks freedom to reject extremely low-wage and exploitive [sic] jobs as agricultural laborers and domestic servants. (Gordon: p. 5)
Franklin Roosevelt also set a plan to take the nation on the path to recovery. This plan for National Recovery was called the New Deal, which had an explicit, and by far the most talked-about social welfare scheme. This plan sought to use the government's intervention in the economy thereby creating more job opportunities and absorbing the poor unskilled labor in various government-sponsored ventures. Due to the congress being controlled by the democrats Roosevelt was able to pass a number of measures to stabilize the economy. FDR had three goals to fulfill: - Industrial Recovery, Agricultural Recovery and Emergency Relief for the Jobless. An Unemployment Relief Act was passed to help rehabilitate the destitute by providing them work. Federal aid was approved to help farmers with their work. One of the most important achievements was the provision of funds to the state treasuries. This was done with the help of the Federal Emergency Relief Act bill. Amongst other efforts was the National Industrial Recovery Act, which helped to manage the recovery of the finance and industry economies. This act was criticized by a lot of people, as it seemed to help large businesses only and paid no heed to the small businesses.
In subsequent years, New Deal was used as a standard when new social welfare policies were formulated. President Truman for example worked on the same model and tried to take the New Deal a little further with his "Fair Deal" social welfare policy. Truman based his Fair Deal on Roosevelt's economic bill of rights.... [He wanted to promise the public] two guarantees [that required]... entirely new legislation: the right to a job and the right to medical care. Picking up a phrase used in the 1944 Democratic platform, Truman called for legislation guaranteeing "full employment." (Coll, 152-153) This resulted in the enactment of The Employment Act of 1946.
In the following decades, especially in 1960s, New Deal was challenged on grounds of its limitations. Lyndon Johnson saw some problems with the New Deal and launched his attack in 1964 by introducing his own social welfare policy that came to be known as Lyndon's War on Poverty. This policy was a serious though unsuccessful response to the New Deal major hiccup of "how to reorient the nation's social policy agenda so that it could eradicate, rather than reinforce, racial inequality."(Quadagno 10-11) Racial inequality was always seen as a major problem with most social welfare policies. It was in later decades, especially 1980s and 1990s that saw some fundamental changes in the structure and basis of social welfare policy in…[continue]
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