Social Welfare is an encompassing and imprecise term, but most often it is defined in terms of “organized activities,” or another element that suggests policy and programs created to respond to social problems and improve the well being of those at risk. In this paper I will discuss the history of social welfare policies and its influence on families.
The advance of the welfare state reflected period-specific needs and was heavily influenced by changes in the national economy. Social welfare policy of the Colonial Period was replicated from the Elizabethan Poor Law that aimed to assist migrants in their struggle to fulfill the expectations of the early stages of industrialization. Its principles were designed to accommodate the necessities of transforming the economy and to negotiate between industrial interests and the landed gentry. They also intended to differentiate between social insurance and social benefits – the deserving and undeserving poor. The means of relief were different for the deserving and undeserving poor. The deserving poor, like the physically disabled, widows, and elderly would receive outdoor relief through cash payments. Veterans were treated with special care: the requirements of local settlements didn’t apply to them and colonies took the responsibly for the provisions of the relief. The undeserving poor received indoor relief through the poorhouses which provided punishment and hard labor to discourage people from denying work. The weak work ethic, as opposed to the economy, was assumed to be at the root of all the problems of the poor. The organized charities were few and their recourses were small. The relief programs were unavailable to blacks, even when they became free men.
A major push for change, the Reform Era, occurred around the Civil War. The most important development in federal welfare was the Civil War Pension system. Social welfare system was heavily dominated by voluntary and charity organizations, such as the Settlement House, which were ran by middle-class women. The scientific charity reform movement emerged and concentrated on counseling the poor in order to improve their social functioning through social casework. The significant point of the early reform period was abolitionism. Despite active developments and emerging movements, no one wanted to take responsibility for the black population, and charities mistakenly attended to the problems of blacks like those of immigrants. Immigrants, also known as the “stranger”, were not welcomed because people felt that they would be responsible for them. Attention was paid to education and child saving. In support of child saving, state subsidies were extended and institutionalized child care was greatly promoted.
The depression of 1930 presented a turning point in the perception of the poor. The underlying theory of previous times that only laziness and shaky ethics have prevented people from economic prosperity was shattered by a vast economy-induced unemployment. The Social Security Act in this regard was the most important success of the time. This act launched Old-Age and Survivors’ Insurance for retired people and their families; Unemployment Compensation for those who lost work temporarily; Aid to Dependent Children and grants to states for medical care. Much of the modern welfare state is rooted in these developments. The Depression also resulted in a re-evaluation of the social work profession. The Social Security Act took relief-giving responsibilities away from social workers who ended up providing “case work treatment to assist individuals in removing their own handicaps.” World War II brought back employment and presented oppressed groups, particularly blacks and women, with new opportunities. After the war, the GI Bill was strategically implemented to delay the entrance of veterans into the job market, therefore preventing the postwar economy from a potential relapse back into depression. Changes in family structure and the feminization of poverty were underling factors in need of attention; assistance adapted to socio-economic change and shifted from widows to unmarried mothers. The concept of “maximum feasible participation” became integral to the developments of the welfare state.
From 1950 to 1960, welfare reform was preoccupied with posing restrictions on the eligibility of recipients and moving away from federal government towards the hands of local control. The solution to poverty was sought through counseling services, employment training and work motivation. The developments of social welfare were shaped by public welfare agencies and funding problems all but eliminated the participation of voluntary agencies. The Civil Rights and feminist movements greatly effected these developments. The War on Poverty promoted further developments of the welfare state. The Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex, was one of the most important contextual developments. Programs like Medicare for the elderly and Head Start for the young poor were created.
In the 1990s, perceptions changed and regressed towards the assumption that government support promotes dependency and demoralizes its recipients. While the Great Society emphasized the structural roots of poverty, modern welfare policy concentrates on the individual behaviors and choices of people who are poor. The most common form of welfare payment has been administered through Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). By the 1990s the AFDC became the main source of regular income for the poor. AFDC payments were vastly criticized and became a big issue of national elections. In his presidential campaign, Bill Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it.” Nowadays, the law limits welfare assistance to five years; require healthy adults to work after two years and removes benefits for immigrants who have not become U.S. citizens within a certain time period. It changed the face of welfare by replacing AFDC with state-run assistance programs financed by federal grants. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), another welfare program, is the monthly cash assistance for poor families with children under age 18. There is a four-year lifetime limit on cash assistance. Work is a major component of TANF; adult recipients with a child over age 1 will be required to participate in a work activity. These work activities help recipients gain the experience needed to find a job and become self-sufficient. The Elizabethan Poor Law influenced American social welfare policy for over two hundred years and paved the way for current social welfare systems.
I believe that my family’s history was influenced by the above mentioned policies. I grew up in a middle class environment in South America and after my parents separated, my mother, myself and two sisters migrated to the United States. My mother had a very difficult time raising us because she worked as a sale clerk in a department store and her pay check was not sufficient to maintain our family environment. Although there were several welfare programs available to us, my mother decided to strive on her own. Having migrated from a country where welfare was not available and entering a country where it was, the need to take advantage of such programs was not of importance to us. We didn’t like the idea of being a burden and we had the desire to achieve more. Being dependent on such programs, only gets you so far. I recalled my mother telling us that she can apply for food stamps and my sister and I told her that we didn’t want her to because we didn’t want to shop with paper money because we would be too embarrass. At the time, we bought into the traditional stereotypes about welfare programs. I believe the welfare policy made us an independent family, as opposed to being dependent on the government. It also gave us a sense of security; knowing that welfare programs were available if we needed them.
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Reid, P. (October-29-2004) Social Welfare History. http://home.insight.rr.com/schwertfager/Documents/Social%20Welfare%20History.htm