From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945-1965 [NOOK Book]


In 1996, Democratic president Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress "ended welfare as we know it" and trumpeted "workfare" as a dramatic break from the past. But, in fact, workfare was not new. Jennifer Mittelstadt locates the roots of the 1996 welfare reform many decades in the past, arguing that women, work, and welfare were intertwined concerns of the liberal welfare state beginning just after World War II.

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From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945-1965

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In 1996, Democratic president Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress "ended welfare as we know it" and trumpeted "workfare" as a dramatic break from the past. But, in fact, workfare was not new. Jennifer Mittelstadt locates the roots of the 1996 welfare reform many decades in the past, arguing that women, work, and welfare were intertwined concerns of the liberal welfare state beginning just after World War II.

Mittelstadt examines the dramatic reform of Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) from the 1940s through the 1960s, demonstrating that in this often misunderstood period, national policy makers did not overlook issues of poverty, race, and women's role in society. Liberals' public debates and disagreements over welfare, however, caused unintended consequences, she argues, including a shift toward conservatism. Rather than leaving ADC as an income support program for needy mothers, reformers recast it as a social services program aimed at "rehabilitating" women from "dependence" on welfare to "independence," largely by encouraging them to work. Mittelstadt reconstructs the ideology, implementation, and consequences of rehabilitation, probing beneath its surface to reveal gendered and racialized assumptions about the welfare poor and broader societal concerns about poverty, race, family structure, and women's employment.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Well-organized. . . . Valuable. . . . . Will appeal to readers interested in women and poverty, reform and the policymaking process, the influence of economy on government, and the intricacies of federal welfare law."
Business History Review

"A subtly argued and convincing account of the ways in which liberal reformers like Wilbur Cohen and social work professionals . . . unwittingly participated in the ending of welfare payments and the substitution of work-based programs. . . . An excellent example of the ways in which careful historical research and writing can illuminate a very complicated and contentious issue."

"[From Welfare to Workforce: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform] is an important contribution to the growing historiography of American social welfare history. . . . Mittelstadt's book serves as a strong reminder that the years from 1945 to 1965 were a significant period in the history of social welfare policy."
American Historical Review

"In her insightful and original examination of welfare politics after World War II, Mittlelstadt explains how modern so-called 'welfare reformers' could successfully hijack a nuanced 'liberal' family policy to the detriment of those whom the law intended to help. Her extensively researched discussion makes a crucial contribution to the evolution of welfare policy."
Cynthia Harrison, The George Washington University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807876435
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 3/7/2005
  • Series: Gender and American Culture
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Jennifer Mittelstadt is assistant professor of history and women's studies at Pennsylvania State University.
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Read an Excerpt

From Welfare to Workfare

The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945-1965
By Jennifer Mittelstadt

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2005 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2922-6

Chapter One

A New Postwar Paradigm for Welfare: From Comprehensive Social Welfare to Welfare Services

In 1943 a wartime agency called the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB) released a grand plan for the future of America's economic and social security. The NRPB's "Security, Work and Relief Policies" offered a blueprint for a new welfare state. It inspired two ambitious bills in Congress in 1943 and 1945, whose purpose was to augment and alter the infant programs of the New Deal. The bills proposed legislation to guarantee "comprehensive social welfare" for Americans by enlarging the social safety net and providing social and medical services programs to a wide swath of the population. In the judgment of contemporary supporters, and of historians since, passage of these bills would have ensured a larger welfare state and enhanced the power of New Deal liberalism. One important, but seldom noted, outcome of the comprehensive social welfare bills of the early 1940s would have been a new way of providing assistance to the poorest people in the United States. The future of the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) program in postwar America therefore was tied to the fate of these two bills.

In 1935 the Social Security Act created the first federal programs for helping the poor. One of these was ADC, the federal version of the longstanding mothers' pensions programs in the states. In 1935 ADC became one of several federal public assistance programs that provided aid to special categories of needy Americans-in this case, to dependent children in the care of a needy adult, usually the mother. However, from its inception in 1935, ADC was hamstrung. New Deal policy makers wrested public assistance for women and children from the control of its champion at the federal level up to this time, the Children's Bureau, and instead placed it in the newly created Social Security Administration. There, it was envisioned by administrators as a small, relatively unimportant public assistance program. The Social Security Administration portrayed welfare provision for mothers as a "residual" program for one particular group of the poor, "less desirable and less popular than the new and untried insurance programs," which supported many more American workers and their dependents. As a result, ADC was generally overlooked by the public and overshadowed by the larger and more popular program, Social Security. As Linda Gordon has argued, the creation of ADC in 1935 was a crucial moment, enshrining the undesirability of ADC and its clients while legitimizing Social Security and its clients.

Ten years later, the two comprehensive welfare bills of the early 1940s might have altered the fate of public assistance, for they had the potential to correct some of the negative outcomes of the 1930s for welfare. The two comprehensive welfare bills proposed abolishing ADC and replacing it and the other categorical assistance programs with an all-encompassing, noncategorical public assistance program. The proposals would have changed the demographics of public assistance, serving not only single women with children and an increasing number of nonwhites-a politically vulnerable group-but also a broader cross section of the population, including men and women, white and nonwhite, married and unmarried people, old and young, disabled and able-bodied. This would have enlarged federal public assistance rolls significantly, challenging the "residual" position of welfare, if not the preeminence of Social Security. Had the bills passed, the social welfare proposals of 1943 and 1945 would have created a new program and new faces of welfare in America.

Though the bills had support in the administration and, to some extent, in Congress, as well as among many liberal interest groups, they failed to pass in the conservative-dominated congressional sessions of 1943 and 1945. Conservative hostility to the New Deal welfare state continued after 1945, making future plans to radically augment the American welfare state unlikely. With the defeat of comprehensive social welfare, the promise of altering the fate of ADC evaporated.

The future of welfare then became uncertain. Would ADC remain in its unimportant position in the federal social welfare system? Would it be even more neglected and demeaned? Observers of welfare policy at the time were not sure and could conclude only the obvious: "Today we stand at the crossroads in public welfare." But in the years immediately following the defeat of the proposed innovative legislation, welfare did start down a different path. Just as the mid-1930s were a pivotal period for women and welfare in America, so, too, were the years from 1943 to 1949. This chapter reconstructs the legislative, political, and policy-making moments of the 1940s. It describes the possibilities that comprehensive social welfare offered for welfare programs and the defeat of this liberal vision. It then examines the subsequent "crossroads" at which welfare policy stood and the direction in which it headed afterward.

During the difficulties of the 1940s, new historical actors emerged in welfare policy. The most important was the American Public Welfare Association (APWA), the national organization representing administrators and social workers affiliated with federal welfare programs. The APWA influenced the proposals for comprehensive social welfare and responded to their defeat with new strategies for welfare. Indeed, the defeat of comprehensive social welfare forced welfare advocates to reconsider the way in which they approached legislation, positioning it so that it could survive a conservative Congress wary of enlarging the welfare state. At the same time, welfare advocates sought a way to wield greater political power vis-a-vis Congress. The defeats of the comprehensive social welfare bills of 1943 and 1945 spurred a major effort to politicize APWA members and redefine the organization as the voice of federal public assistance programs, especially ADC. With greater influence, APWA leaders hoped for legislative success.

In practical terms, welfare policy makers repeatedly failed to win legislative successes. But their work in the 1940s was fundamental nonetheless. The ups and downs of the 1940s prompted new thinking about the philosophy of welfare provision. The failure of broad legislative proposals prompted a diminishment of the meaning of the term "comprehensive social welfare." Chastened by the defeat of grand plans for massive reform, welfare advocates settled on a modest strategy to change and improve the existing ADC program in the late 1940s. The APWA carved out a new philosophical position on welfare that emphasized making ADC more "comprehensive," not by replacing the program with a broad noncategorical system as the 1943 and 1945 bills had proposed to do, but instead by providing an array of social services to welfare clients from within the ADC program itself. By the end of the 1940s, "comprehensive" meant something far less bold.

Comprehensive Social Welfare in the Early 1940s

Although the New Deal social welfare system had just been created in the mid-1930s, by the 1940s liberal policy makers were already deconstructing and reconstructing it, in a sweeping attempt to refurbish the system. Two cornerstones of this effort were the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bills of 1943 and 1945, sponsored by congressional allies Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.), James Murray (D-Mont.), and John Dingell (D-Mich.). The presidential administrations of Democrats Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, respectively, proposed major improvements and changes in the New Deal through new health care policy, full-employment policy, and social welfare programs.

Though the proposals came only ten years after the Social Security Act, the cast of characters involved in social policy had changed. Some actors from 1935 were no longer as influential. One was the Children's Bureau. As Linda Gordon has demonstrated, the Children's Bureau was handed a political defeat when the ADC program, a program it had overseen in its state-level mothers' pensions incarnation, was wrested from its control in 1935. That defeat spelled the declining influence of the bureau; it would never play a decisive policy-making role in ADC again. Of course, the Children's Bureau did not abandon its interest in ADC simply because of its declining power. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Children's Bureau continued to review legislative and administrative proposals regarding ADC and advocate for the program. Yet in general in the postwar years, the Children's Bureau spent more of its resources on promoting child welfare and child care than on ADC. Moreover, leadership in the Social Security Administration, the Bureau of Public Assistance, and later incarnations of the federal welfare administration were not inclined to grant the Children's Bureau any greater role.

Aside from the declining power of Children's Bureau, the conception of the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bills reflected the creation of the Social Security Act in the 1930s in several ways. Just as in 1934-35, no major Progressive Era organizations were involved in the lobbying for or deliberations of the bold new laws being proposed. The National Consumer's League, the American Association of University Women, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Women's Trade Union Leagues, which had vigorously supported the creation of state-level social welfare legislation in the early twentieth century, were no longer actively lobbying in the early 1930s for social welfare legislation, and did not, therefore, contribute to the legislative process in the 1940s. Rather, both the Social Security Act of the 1930s and the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bills of the 1940s were products of government insiders-officers in government agencies. Just as a temporary government agency-the Committee on Economic Security-had crafted the Social Security Act, so, too, did a temporary agency-the National Resources Planning Board-inspire the comprehensive social welfare bills of the 1940s. In addition, some actors from the 1930s continued to wield power in the 1940s. The Social Security Administration and its staff, created in 1935, and the Bureau of Public Assistance, remained crucial actors in the early 1940s, major planners of comprehensive social welfare.

One Social Security civil servant wielding influence in the 1940s was Wilbur Cohen. In 1943 Wilbur Cohen was serving as technical adviser to the commissioner of Social Security, Arthur Altmeyer. He had been working for Altmeyer for eight years, and Altmeyer treated him "almost like a son," as one mutual friend put it. Through Altmeyer, Wilbur Cohen found himself deeply involved in the proposals for comprehensive social welfare, an active policy maker unlike most technical advisers to commissioners of the Society Security. Throughout his five-decade career in government, spanning from the 1930s to the 1980s, Cohen was a skilled architect of public policy. He frequently wrote legislation for his agency, and also for members of Congress, whether trying to gain their sponsorship for a bill or helping them win an election. As Edward Berkowitz points out, in the early 1940s, Cohen built a relationship with Senator Robert Wagner of New York, educating him about the Social Security system and helping him craft positions on social welfare in general. Working with the senator and his staff, Cohen wrote key sections of the Wagner-Murray-Dingell legislation on Wagner's behalf.

The Wagner-Murray-Dingell bills of 1943 and 1945 reflected an ideology of "comprehensive social welfare" unique to the early 1940s, part of what some scholars call the "third New Deal." Beginning in 1939, with the creation of the National Resources Planning Board, members of Roosevelt's administration began to plan for the postdepression economy. Composed of federal agency officers with slightly varying ideologies, the NRPB collectively envisioned both an opportunity and a necessity to create fiscal and welfare policies to ensure prosperity, employment, and welfare for the American people in the coming decades. This philosophy envisioned a sweeping social safety net for Americans. At its core was the old- age insurance program, Social Security. Surrounding it were various social programs, from unemployment insurance to public assistance, which were seen as necessary to ensure total security, but ancillary to social insurance. The bills were a bold attempt to secure many different kinds of social welfare legislation at once, and they would have changed social welfare in the United States significantly.

Notably, the bills proposed major changes in federal public assistance programs. The rhetoric of public assistance surrounding the bills reflected the traditional preeminence of Social Security. Comprehensive social welfare advocates argued that eventually social insurance-both old-age and unemployment insurance-would expand its coverage of citizens so as to obviate the need for public assistance; public assistance might then "wither away." Yet in their details, the bills belied this rhetoric, the authors' being mindful of the fact that the public assistance rolls were growing in the late 1930s and early 1940s, though they declined temporarily during the war. The bills' authors recognized that public assistance was not likely to wither away, so they proposed overhauling and enlarging it. They suggested replacing the existing 1935 categorical assistance programs-Aid to Dependent Children, Aid to the Blind, and Old Age Assistance-which were aimed at helping specific target populations of the needy, with one large, noncategorical federal public assistance program that would cover all needy people. Single mothers and children, the blind, and the needy elderly would no longer be the only people covered. Any needy adults could receive benefits. This change would protect more of the poor under federal public assistance programs, rather than leaving them to the whims of local and state general assistance programs, which were notoriously underfunded and unreliable.

In addition, the new large, noncategorical program would have featured greater national-level administrative control of welfare. Because the existing categorical programs were strongly federal, with shared monies and administration and rules between the federal government and the states and localities, significant discretionary authority over welfare existed across the country. Such discretion allowed for states to provide small welfare payments if they so desired and to interpret federal rules with considerable latitude. Many southern and western states exercised their own discretion to limit or deny aid to nonwhite ADC clients. The new, national, noncategorical program might have reduced the power of state and local governments to determine eligibility for public assistance.


Excerpted from From Welfare to Workfare by Jennifer Mittelstadt Copyright © 2005 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 A new postwar paradigm for welfare : from comprehensive social welfare to welfare services 21
Ch. 2 Strengthening family life and encouraging independence : gender and the postwar rehabilitation of the poor 41
Ch. 3 Selling welfare : the gender and race politics of coalition and consensus 69
Ch. 4 A "new spirit" in welfare : women and work in the Kennedy administration 107
Ch. 5 Doing enough for broken families : the liberal social agenda on welfare, women's rights, and poverty, 1962-1964 131
Epilogue : from rehabilitation to responsibility 155
App. A Major federal legislative developments in aid to dependent children, 1935-1964 175
App. B Major federal legislative developments in aid to dependent children encouraging or requiring employment, 1956-2004 177
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