SOCIAL WELFARE POLICY has always been a controversial subject in the United States because of the difference between its perceived and real benefits. Usually public is unable to decide who are social welfare programs designed for and whether they actually benefit the target population. The government on its part fails to convince the public of the benefits and advantages of having various social welfare programs running in the country. Some historians and analysts have attacked the social welfare policy and termed it government’s weapon against the able-bodied poor. Katz (1989) contends that the “the core of most welfare reform in America since the early nineteenth-century,” has been the assault against the “able-bodied poor” — a crusade to “define, locate and purge them from the roles of relief.” (Katz, 18) Thus social welfare policy becomes an unlikely target of controversy and public uproar. The problem is grounded in vaguely defined and poorly conceived social welfare policy as most people are still confused about the very meaning of ‘social welfare’ and what are the main objectives of having such a policy.
Harvey et al. (1990) write: “The standard belief goes something like this: First, by “welfare,” most people mean cash assistance for needy families provided by the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC). Second, “welfare,” so defined, is viewed as a substantial and growing component of American social welfare expenditures. Third, AFDC in particular, and means-tested programs in general, are viewed as the government’s primary weapons in combating poverty. Finally, there is, if not a conviction, at least a concern that these massive expenditures have failed to turn the tide in the war against poverty. Many people adopt the even more pessimistic view that welfare actually has contributed to the incidence of poverty. “Welfare,” in short, is seen as having failed in its essential goals.” (82-83)
Social Welfare has a long and complicated history in the United States. With the abolition of slavery after the Civil war, the country saw an immediate increase in the urban poor, creating numerous problems for the economy and for those who had been affected by the sudden exposure to the free world where they found themselves without any proper means of economic support. “The cities of the upper South – Richmond and Baltimore — sent forth a sprinkling of black vagrants, as did Florida and North Carolina in the post-Civil War era. These figures indicate a significant presence of migrants in the reformatory’s black population. The “flotsam and jetsam” of political economies in transition – whether in rural New York or the post-bellum South — converged on America’s greatest metropolis in search of work, adventure and freedom.” (Gupta, 2001)
The assault against the “able-bodied” charge is actually a positive attack against the social welfare policy which is based on the fact that only those poor whop are unable to work should benefit from government’s social welfare programs. In other words, social welfare policy is grounded in strict work ethics in order to induce the able-bodied poor to seek employment and become less of a burden on the economy. “From the start, social welfare policy has been shaped by the work ethic and the belief that the provision of benefits to able-bodied persons will weaken their motivation to work. As a result, the cash assistance programs including Social Security benefits, Unemployment Insurance, and Aid To Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) enforce the work ethic either by rewarding higher paid workers over those who earn less or by encouraging able-bodied persons to choose paid labor (no matter what the wage levels or working conditions) over government aid. Such policies have kept the labor market supplied with men who are expected to work productively and provide for their families.” (Abramovitz, 1988)
The history of social welfare policy shows that it was originally not a very organized movement and was more or less carried on by community groups who sought to provide relief to those who couldn’t possibly become part of the paid labor force such as children and mothers. After the Civil war for example, social welfare policy focused on providing cash assistance to poor families with special emphasis on providing for the children who would otherwise end up in foster homes. Mothers’ pension laws were created to provide some monetary relief to poor women without adequate financial support. After the Civil war till the time of First World War, American social welfare policy was mainly designed to benefit poor rural women and children.
Apart from rural women, there was another group that has been the oldest recipients of welfare in the United States, namely the government employees such as teachers, police officers and fire fighters. Much before other groups were included in the social welfare policy, a retirement and pension plan for teachers was in effect in New Jersey. With the passage of time, more states adopted similar retirement policies and plans. The government also realized the need to provide welfare benefits to government employees working in potentially hazardous conditions. By 1911, compensation law was enforced and by the end of 1929, all states except four had a workers’ compensation law enacted. After the First World War and throughout twenties, a more expanded social welfare policy was in operation, which sought to provide relief to senior citizens and the blind.
The decade the marked the revolution and rapid evolution of the social welfare policy was 1930s. Immediately after the Depression era of 1929, Federal government intervened to provide relief to the states realizing the states could no longer work in decentralized manner. Federal government took charge of the social welfare policy in 1930s when it announced several relief programs to aid the depression-hit workers and businesses. 1935 was the most crucial year in the development of social welfare policy when President Franklin Roosevelt proposed economic security measures that culminated in the enactment of Social Security Act of 1935. While the Social Security Act can be considered landmark legislation in many regards, it was later attacked as racially motivated. Linda Gordon writes:
In 1935, Social Security excluded the most needy groups from all its programs, even the inferior ones. These exclusions were deliberate and mainly racially motivated, as Congress was then controlled by wealthy southern Democrats who were determined to block the possibility of a welfare system allowing blacks freedom to reject extremely low-wage and exploitive [sic] jobs as agricultural laborers and domestic servants. (Gordon: p. 5)
Franklin Roosevelt also set a plan to take the nation on the path to recovery. This plan for National Recovery was called the New Deal, which had an explicit, and by far the most talked-about social welfare scheme. This plan sought to use the government’s intervention in the economy thereby creating more job opportunities and absorbing the poor unskilled labor in various government-sponsored ventures. Due to the congress being controlled by the democrats Roosevelt was able to pass a number of measures to stabilize the economy. FDR had three goals to fulfill: – Industrial Recovery, Agricultural Recovery and Emergency Relief for the Jobless. An Unemployment Relief Act was passed to help rehabilitate the destitute by providing them work. Federal aid was approved to help farmers with their work. One of the most important achievements was the provision of funds to the state treasuries. This was done with the help of the Federal Emergency Relief Act bill. Amongst other efforts was the National Industrial Recovery Act, which helped to manage the recovery of the finance and industry economies. This act was criticized by a lot of people, as it seemed to help large businesses only and paid no heed to the small businesses.
In subsequent years, New Deal was used as a standard when new social welfare policies were formulated. President Truman for example worked on the same model and tried to take the New Deal a little further with his “Fair Deal” social welfare policy. Truman based his Fair Deal on Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights…. [He wanted to promise the public] two guarantees [that required]… entirely new legislation: the right to a job and the right to medical care. Picking up a phrase used in the 1944 Democratic platform, Truman called for legislation guaranteeing “full employment.” (Coll, 152-153) This resulted in the enactment of The Employment Act of 1946.
In the following decades, especially in 1960s, New Deal was challenged on grounds of its limitations. Lyndon Johnson saw some problems with the New Deal and launched his attack in 1964 by introducing his own social welfare policy that came to be known as Lyndon’s War on Poverty. This policy was a serious though unsuccessful response to the New Deal major hiccup of “how to reorient the nation’s social policy agenda so that it could eradicate, rather than reinforce, racial inequality.”(Quadagno 10-11) Racial inequality was always seen as a major problem with most social welfare policies. It was in later decades, especially 1980s and 1990s that saw some fundamental changes in the structure and basis of social welfare policy in the United States.
The 1980s and 1990s were decades of intense activity on public policies affecting low-income Americans. Lawmakers in Washington D.C., and in state capitals modified the financing, structure, and services of major cash welfare, health, child-care, tax, and related policies. These policy changes have had important implications for the structure and the generosity of assistance to low-income individuals and families. The 1996 federal welfare-reform law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), raises particularly interesting and controversial questions about the roles of federal and state authorities in social welfare policy. By reversing the individual entitlement to cash assistance formerly granted under the Social Security Act, the 1996 law gives states greater latitude to modify eligibility and other requirements for welfare assistance.” (Peck, 2002)
Imperialism refers to forced expansion of one country’s influence on other, less-developed or less powerful nation. It is important to bear in mind that imperialism need not be military in nature because as recent history proves, it can often be economic or cultural as well. In other words, when a country tries various military or economic tactics to spread its influence to other countries and then seeks to control those countries because of its influence, the situation is referred to as imperialism. “Obviously, imperialism does not necessarily imply the outright domination of other countries as in colonialism, one form of imperialism. The crucial factor is to impose, within the dominated countries, a government prone to the development of economic relations favorable to the interest of dominating countries. This can be achieved by all means: collaboration with local ruling classes, subversion, or war. Such domination is compatible with what is called “democracy” or dictatorship, depending on circumstances. States are, indeed, crucial, both within dominating and dominated countries.”
In colonial times, it was the British, Dutch and French who forcefully expanded their influence, entered other countries and occupied them to subjugate the natives and turn them into slaves. With the end of colonial era, we probably thought that imperialism had died. But that appears to be anything but true because we are now witnessing the rise of this phenomenon again, only this time; it is the United States and not Europe that has become the imperialist force.
We must understand that America’s policy of spreading its influence to other lands and geographical areas is now being carried out mostly by its corporations and in some cases its military. But back in the 1800s, when the country was still in its infancy, America through use of force made its clear to its weaker neighbors that it was seeking world domination through whichever means possible. During 1840s, America decided to stretch its boundaries further by chopping Texas off the map of Mexico and make it a territory of the United States. The strangest thing about this plan was that United States behaved in the most arrogant manner claiming that it was its right to expand its boundaries since the population of the country was exploding due to immigration. This type of attitude made it clear that United States would one day want to dominate the entire world by different methods. The United States government of those times was similar to Israel of today in its expansion plans. Both governments feel they are destined to grow and expand because they are God’s chosen people.
Manifest Destiny’ was the term given to this mission by the journalist John L. O’Sullivan who felt that other so-called less fortunate countries should not create obstacles in the America’s plan of expansion,.” hampering our power, limiting our greatness, and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions….” The term carried a condescending tone and brought America’s arrogance to the surface.
It also gave people a clear signal regarding America’s future plans because Manifest Destiny was not simply a plan to expand territorial boundaries of the country, it was the first step taken by American towards globalization. William Jay Jacobs (1993) writes, “Many Americans of the time were convinced that the United States was a very special country with a very special future. It was, they said, their mission — their ‘manifest destiny’ ‘ — to spread the blessings of liberty and democracy to the less fortunate people of Canada, the Far West (California and Oregon), Mexico, and Central America.”
Later in 1898, Spanish-American War further consolidated America’s imperialist position in the world when United States took over former Spanish Colonies of Cuba, The Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Hawaii was the next big target and as always, American first entered the land through the corporate route. Hawaii was an independent kingdom that was largely invaded by American corporations during the nineteenth century. Large business firms such as Dole Pineapple began consolidating American presence in the kingdom and by 1898; President Dole announced annexation and Hawaii became United States’ territory.
The list of such conquests is endless and American imperialism is now an established fact. No matter how the country tries to deny the charge of imperialism, the fact remains that its interventionist foreign policy is definitely no accident. The world realized this a long time back and now scholars unanimously agree that “the series of so-called foreign policy “mistakes” underlying our involvement may very well be no mistakes at all, but rather part of a consistent policy to defend an empire. That the U.S. is an imperialist power, second to none in the world today, can no longer be dismissed as empty rhetoric or a mere piece of communist propaganda. The nature or unique character of this imperialism, however, is still a much debated issue.” (Fann et al. p. v)
America’s imperialist military and economic strategies have given rise to extreme resentment in other nations. This resentment has now been translated into terrorist attacks, which are only hurting America interests and citizens around the globe. When terrorists target American land or people, the first excuse that comes out of governmental quarters is always grounded in U.S.’s flawed perceptions. It is believed that America is being targeted because of its superior status in the world. Little attention however is paid to America’s foreign policy that requires military intervention by the United States every time something goes wrong in any corner of the world, however obscure. On top of that America has failed to bring about any positive changes in the situation of those countries. Conflicts more or less remain unresolved and economic and social conditions worsen with American intervention thereby giving rise to immense resentment against United States interests. Richard J. Barnett (1990) sheds light on America’s interventionist foreign policy and traces its roots, “Since the end of World War II, it has been an axiom of American foreign policy that national security required a continuing commitment to intervene — by military means, if necessary — in internal wars and insurgencies, mostly in the Third World, in order to prevent revolutionary political change and “Marxist-Leninist” models of economic development.”
Middle East conflict is the most perfect example of American intervention going haywire and thus resulting in extreme hatred of America and everything that it stands for. American’s foreign policy was to maintain military presence in this region in order to control any domestic violence and insurgencies. However its perpetual presence has only further worsened the situation and no positive solution has come out of this. It appears as if America has a special interest in keeping the conflict alive in this region because its failure is so obvious that it should have pulled out a long time back. America’s presence in the Middle East has been useless because as far as the conflict is concerned, it is certainly a domestic problem that Palestinian and Israel leadership should be able to resolve without external diplomatic help, let alone military support pouring in from a America and its Allies. It has also been noticed that America’s intervention has always resulted in further economic and social problems in the conflict-infected countries. The economic hardships breed terrorism in these victim countries because American intervention is mostly viewed as interference grounded in ulterior selfish motives of the so-called ‘peacekeepers’.
After Palestine and Lebanon, came Iraq that recently became the target of America’s imperialist military power.
America is now the new imperial force, which many believe is different from the European imperialist countries of colonial times. This difference is grounded in the motives of the two forces. Europeans were mainly interested in new markets, wealth and raw material while America is equally interested in occupying more land and is essentially a controlling monster. It simply cannot allow other nations to make their own decisions and disregard American interests and thus feels that it is important to make its presence felt in almost every corner of the world. This has essentially resulted in extreme anti-American sentiment in the world, which is seriously hurting the American population around the globe.
Blanche D. Coll: Safety Net: Welfare and Social Security, 1929-1979 Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, NJ. 1995
Gerard Dumenil; Dominique Levy: THE ECONOMICS OF U.S. IMPERIALISM AT THE TURN OF THE 21st CENTURY: Retrieved Online at (http://www.ucm.es/info/ec/jec9/pdf/P1%20-%20Dum%E9nil,%20G%E9rard%20y%20L%E9vy,%20Dominique%20(2).pdf.
Gupta, Gunja San, Black and “dangerous”? African-American working poor perspectives on juvenile reform and welfare in Victorian New York, 1840-1890. The Journal of Negro History; 3/22/2001;
K.T. Fann; Donald C. Hodges; Readings in U.S. Imperialism P. Sargent Boston. 1971
Linda Gordon, Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare, 1890-1935 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994);
Michael B. Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America (New York, 1986),
Mimi Abramovitz: Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy from Colonial Times to the Present. South End Press. Boston. 1988
Peck, Laura R. More, less, or more of the same? Trends in state social welfare policy in the 1990s. Publius; 9/22/2002;
Philip L. Harvey, Theodore R. Marmor, Jerry L. Mashaw: America’s Misunderstood Welfare State: Persistent Myths, Enduring Realities. Basic Books. New York. 1990.
Quadagno, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994);
Richard J. Barnett, U.S. intervention: low-intensity thinking, Vol. 46, No. 4, May 1990
William Jay Jacobs, Chapter 2: Texas Annexed by the United States., War with Mexico, 10-01-1993.
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