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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 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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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 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    Excellent monograph tracing the development of welfare politics in the two decades following World War II. Mittlestadt places the center of the story in a three-stage shift in the emphasis in the debates. At the outset (going back to the origins of the Aid to Dependent Children program in the New Deal), welfare was conceived as a form of family support, a way to allow mothers to stay at home and take care of the family while the father, conceived as the sole breadwinner of a slightly mythical Am Excellent monograph tracing the development of welfare politics in the two decades following World War II. Mittlestadt places the center of the story in a three-stage shift in the emphasis in the debates. At the outset (going back to the origins of the Aid to Dependent Children program in the New Deal), welfare was conceived as a form of family support, a way to allow mothers to stay at home and take care of the family while the father, conceived as the sole breadwinner of a slightly mythical American family, worked. Gradually, the focus shifted to viewing welfare as a form of rehabilitation, providing services that would allow women to make the transition into the workforce without disrupting their families. Reflecting the influence of Wilbur Cohen, a major player in both scholarship and policy discussions, this led to renaming ADC AFDC, adding families to the description. That was a rhetorical move designed to garner conservative Democrat and Republican support for the changes proposed by Cohen and the JFK administration in the early 60s. However, Middlestadt demonstrates, that approach backfired because the emphasis on preparing women to assume positions in the workforce, combined with changes in AFDC that opened the program to some men, paved the way for conservative attacks (highly radicalized) and what has become the dominant approach to the relationship between work and welfare, which places work and punishment for "immorality" or "laziness" at the center of the political debate.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    An impressive and surprising look at welfare policy in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. Mittelstadt proves that far from being an era of universal consensus on welfare programs, policymakers and politicians battled strenuously over the meaning of assistance. Social Security doyens like Wilbur Cohen originally hoped to move all nominal "welfare" programs under the umbrella of social security, to take away the stamp of shame that putatively attached to receiving government help, yet his and others s An impressive and surprising look at welfare policy in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. Mittelstadt proves that far from being an era of universal consensus on welfare programs, policymakers and politicians battled strenuously over the meaning of assistance. Social Security doyens like Wilbur Cohen originally hoped to move all nominal "welfare" programs under the umbrella of social security, to take away the stamp of shame that putatively attached to receiving government help, yet his and others strategies, embodied in the 1961 and 1962 welfare reform acts, began pushing welfare recipients into rehabilitation work programs in order to strengthen that connection. Long before the famous 1996 reform, the connection between Aid to Dependent Children and the expectation of rehabilitation was growing stronger, and Mittlestadt shows why. It's a great look at how policy ideas have unforeseen political consequences.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Rispoli-Roberts

    Using the personal papers of key players such as Elizabeth Wickenden, as well as analyzing the actions they performed, Middlestadt places herself in the historiographical discourse as providing a focus on the "salient features" of an individualized interpretation of poverty which has gone "virtually unnoticed by historians."9 In addition, while many historians have explored welfare history, they tend to cover the periods of big change, such as the New Deal and the Great Society, while Mittelstadt co Using the personal papers of key players such as Elizabeth Wickenden, as well as analyzing the actions they performed, Middlestadt places herself in the historiographical discourse as providing a focus on the "salient features" of an individualized interpretation of poverty which has gone "virtually unnoticed by historians."9 In addition, while many historians have explored welfare history, they tend to cover the periods of big change, such as the New Deal and the Great Society, while Mittelstadt covers a the work of liberal policy makers, who not only lobby for policy change, but are involved in the academic end of social work. She also delivers a fair critique of the changes that occurred to welfare as a result of liberal reformers. In particular, she points out that Cohen and Wickenden’s ideals were never fully realized, and that even as "work requirements were tightened during the past thirty years, work failed to remove poor women on welfare from poverty.”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A very good history of the development of the social safety net in America. The author explores the role of race in the development of the safety net, and she provides a thoroughgoing assessment of the role of race in its expansion and contraction to meet the needs of the poor.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jenifer Norton

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    Peter Cruz

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    Sarah

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    Mary Champagne

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    Andrew Abruzzese

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    Joe

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    Alexander

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    Max Nager

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    Ryan

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    Hl Chen

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    Maxwell

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    Colin

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    Marla McMackin

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    Aaron Botts

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    Lacey Hancher

  21. 5 out of 5

    Osita Nwanevu

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    Mark Fitzpatrick

  23. 5 out of 5

    jinhyouk

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    Sean

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    Quin Rich

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    Aaron Mcnully

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    Jeff Schauer

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  30. 4 out of 5

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