Improving Poor People: The Welfare State, the

Improving Poor People: The Welfare State, the "Underclass," and Urban Schools as History

by Michael B. Katz
     
 

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"There are places where history feels irrelevant, and America's inner cities are among them," acknowledges Michael Katz, in expressing the tensions between activism and scholarship. But this major historian of urban poverty realizes that the pain in these cities has its origins in the American past. To understand contemporary poverty, he looks particularly at an

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Overview

"There are places where history feels irrelevant, and America's inner cities are among them," acknowledges Michael Katz, in expressing the tensions between activism and scholarship. But this major historian of urban poverty realizes that the pain in these cities has its origins in the American past. To understand contemporary poverty, he looks particularly at an old attitude: because many nineteenth-century reformers traced extreme poverty to drink, laziness, and other forms of bad behavior, they tried to use public policy and philanthropy to improve the character of poor people, rather than to attack the structural causes of their misery. Showing how this misdiagnosis has afflicted today's welfare and educational systems, Katz draws on his own experiences to introduce each of four topics--the welfare state, the "underclass" debate, urban school reform, and the strategies of survival used by the urban poor. Uniquely informed by his personal involvement, each chapter also illustrates the interpretive power of history by focusing on a strand of social policy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: social welfare from the poorhouse era through the New Deal, ideas about urban poverty from the undeserving poor to the "underclass," and the emergence of public education through the radical school reform movement now at work in Chicago.

Why have American governments proved unable to redesign a welfare system that will satisfy anyone? Why has public policy proved unable to eradicate poverty and prevent the deterioration of major cities? What strategies have helped poor people survive the poverty endemic to urban history? How did urban schools become unresponsive bureaucracies that fail to educate most of their students? Are there fresh, constructive ways to think about welfare, poverty, and public education? Throughout the book Katz shows how interpretations of the past, grounded in analytic history, can free us of comforting myths and help us to reframe discussions of these great public issues.

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Editorial Reviews

Mary Carroll
" Unresolved tension between activism and scholarship" has informed University of Pennsylvania professor Katz's research for three decades. Like many of his longer works, the four essays in this work deal with that tension by offering "interpretations of the past grounded in analytic social history, freed of comforting myths [in an effort to] reframe discussions of great public issues." Katz has probed these subjects--the history of welfare; the people once dubbed "the undeserving poor" and now called "the underclass" ; urban schools; and the ways poor people have managed to survive in the U.S.--at greater length elsewhere. The appeal of these essays is that they are at once more personal, describing how Katz became involved in researching each issue, and more synthetic, tracing across the past two centuries of constantly shifting American attitudes toward the ill-defined concepts of "public" and "private," the limits of localism, and the role of government, and demonstrating that thoughtful history confounds political mythology's simple generalizations and neat solutions. A provocative, stimulating exploration that clarifies which approaches in the ever-contentious debate over the "right" approach to poverty are genuinely new and which are generations old.
Journal of American History
As a concise overview of twenty-five years of writing on poverty, welfare, and public education, this is an exceptionally valuable and important book....It will be read widely by social scientists, policy makers, and concerned citizens.
— Molly Ladd-Taylor
Families in Society

A must reading for all social workers ... interested in the current debate about the role of government in social welfare. Katz's keen historical analysis informs us what our response to need has been and poses questions that we need to ask to avoid future errors.
— Edward J. Gumz

Booklist
A provocative, stimulating exploration that clarifies which approaches in the ever-contentious debate over the "right" approach to poverty are genuinely new and which are generations old.
The Nation
No historian has written more wisely on urban poverty and social welfare policy in this country, and [Katz] is at his commanding best here.
— Kai Erikson
Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Sciences
A must reading for all social workers ... interested in the current debate about the role of government in social welfare. Katz's keen historical analysis informs us what our response to need has been and poses questions that we need to ask to avoid future errors.
— Edward J. Gumz
Journal of American History - Molly Ladd-Taylor
As a concise overview of twenty-five years of writing on poverty, welfare, and public education, this is an exceptionally valuable and important book....It will be read widely by social scientists, policy makers, and concerned citizens.
Families in Society - Edward J. Gumz
A must reading for all social workers ... interested in the current debate about the role of government in social welfare. Katz's keen historical analysis informs us what our response to need has been and poses questions that we need to ask to avoid future errors.
The Nation - Kai Erikson
No historian has written more wisely on urban poverty and social welfare policy in this country, and [Katz] is at his commanding best here.
From the Publisher
"As a concise overview of twenty-five years of writing on poverty, welfare, and public education, this is an exceptionally valuable and important book....It will be read widely by social scientists, policy makers, and concerned citizens."—Molly Ladd-Taylor, Journal of American History

"A must reading for all social workers ... interested in the current debate about the role of government in social welfare. Katz's keen historical analysis informs us what our response to need has been and poses questions that we need to ask to avoid future errors."—Edward J. Gumz, Families in Society

"A provocative, stimulating exploration that clarifies which approaches in the ever-contentious debate over the "right" approach to poverty are genuinely new and which are generations old."Booklist

"No historian has written more wisely on urban poverty and social welfare policy in this country, and [Katz] is at his commanding best here."—Kai Erikson, The Nation

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400821709
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
04/02/1997
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
191
File size:
0 MB

What People are saying about this

Frances Fox Piven
Michael Katz is perhaps the premier historian of American social welfare. And in the case of his work, it really is true that an understanding of the past illuminates the present, and especially the present debacle over welfare reform.
Robin D.G. Kelley
Michael Katz is not just the leading historian of urban poverty and social policy in the United States; he is of that rare breed of scholars who believes in changing the world he interprets. And as he demonstrates in these powerful, moving essays on welfare reform, the 'underclass' debate, and urban education, interpreting the past is not only essential for creating a different future but often just as difficult. By consistently putting people at the center of the story—their actions, their mistakes, their conflicts, their visions—Katz reminds us why grand theories or single-issue panaceas cannot stand in for careful historical research. His deeply personal account of his struggle to straddle the worlds of academics and activism adds a rich dimension to an already razor-sharp and hardnosed analysis. Anyone truly concerned about the plight of America's inner cities must read this book.
Robin D. G. Kelley, author of "Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class"
G. Kelley
Michael Katz is not just the leading historian of urban poverty and social policy in the United States; he is of that rare breed of scholars who believes in changing the world he interprets. And as he demonstrates in these powerful, moving essays on welfare reform, the 'underclass' debate, and urban education, interpreting the past is not only essential for creating a different future but often just as difficult. By consistently putting people at the center of the story--their actions, their mistakes, their conflicts, their visions--Katz reminds us why grand theories or single-issue panaceas cannot stand in for careful historical research. His deeply personal account of his struggle to straddle the worlds of academics and activism adds a rich dimension to an already razor-sharp and hardnosed analysis. Anyone truly concerned about the plight of America's inner cities must read this book.
Robin D. G. Kelley, author of "Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class"

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