Has there been a shift of patterns of social welfare policy over time? Is the American welfare state truly fair when it comes to receiving financial help? Does it favor certain social groups over others? The Declaration of Independence documents the strong American belief in equality of opportunity; but large portions of our population lack meaningful opportunities.
According to an article written by Isabel V. Sawhill, welfare policy was first formulated at the state level. AFDC itself owes its origins to state-run “mothers pensions” programs first set up in 1911 in Illinois and Missouri, long before the federal government incorporated family assistance into the Social security Act of 1935. Before 1935, people in vulnerable populations needing support could not find help from private groups. Aid for the poor was considered a public obligation, but was provided on a voluntary basis. Private charity was distinguished between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor. Widows and orphans and others rendered dependent by tragedy were considered deserving. Able-bodied people unwilling to work or newly arrived transients were considered undeserving. Therefore, charity seekers had to submit to economic and moral qualifications on a very subjective basis that incorporated a lot of prejudice. The provision of aid ignored larger conditions that caused unemployment, and instead considered social case work at the promotion of mental hygiene. Sawhill explains in her article how gradually, state governments developed programs to aid citizens in difficult conditions. The Great Depression resulted in many middle-class people loosing their job and business, which proved to Americans that poverty, could result from different failures in the economic system as well as from personal responsibilities. This forced the drastic revisions of standards regarding who was worthy and who was not. This provided the public demand for federal programs. It was at this time when President Franklin...
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