From poor law to welfare state: a history of social welfare in America
Preface to the Sixth Edition
The first question most readers undoubtedly will ask is, why publish a new edition of From Poor Law to Welfare State at this time? While there are a number of reasons for doing so, there are two compelling, although related, answers to that question. First, the previous edition of this work ended on a rather upbeat, or optimistic, note. President Bill Clinton had just introduced his sweeping proposal to overhaul the nation's health care system, and while many questions about that undertaking remained unanswered, I wrote that "most Americans reacted favorably to the plan and looked forward to the upcoming debate over its specifics." Furthermore, to again quote from the last edition, "there seemed to be bi-partisan support, in and out of Congress, for the notion that the time had come for some sort of universal national health insurance scheme." Obviously, I was wrong, and I am glad to have the opportunity to correct myself -- and to explain why I was mistaken.
Second, and closely related, I also misunderstood, or placed too much faith in, President Clinton and his commitment to helping the needy by getting to the heart of their problems -- and using the federal government to help resolve them. I really believed, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, that Clinton,
unlike his immediate predecessors, who either did not recognize the nation's social problems or refused to face up to them...certainly admits that the nation has many such problems....that it cannot afford to ignore them....and that the public sector can and should help to resolve them. Just as our colonial ancestors viewed their villages and towns as communities [I wrote] he cries out for the government again to become an instrument for the improvement of its citizens' lives, especially by providing at least a minimal level of social welfare for all of its inhabitants.
Again, I proved to be in error. Indeed, as readers already may know, or will discover from reading the "new" last chapter of this book -- the title of which I changed from "Toward a New Domestic Order?" to "Looking Forward -- or Backward?" -- just the opposite occurred. Thanks to what is referred to as the welfare reform act of 1996, signed into law by Clinton (just prior to the upcoming presidential election) over the protests of a number of concerned citizens, the entitlement to welfare, put into place in America some sixty years ago in the midst of the Great Depression (if not earlier, during the colonial period), has been removed and replaced by the "work or starve" mentality of an earlier time.
As that measure indicates, social and economic justice is not at the top of the public agenda today. Most Americans no longer wish to entrust government with the power, and the responsibility, to help their needy fellows. Unlike Herbert Gans and a handful of other brave scholars who continue to debunk stereotypes about the poor and deplore the fact that some misguided concepts, especially that of "the underclass," have become weapons in the current war against the poor, most Americans once again blame the victim and eschew collective, as opposed to individualistic, solutions to the nation's social and economic problems; they certainly do not wish to see their tax dollars used for welfare. And by attacking the welfare system rather than the poverty problem, they have achieved their aims. And while the results of these developments are not yet clear, critics predict that more than 2.5 million citizens, including 1.2 million children, will be thrown into poverty as a result of the change; for reasons discussed in the last chapter of the book, I fear they are correct (although, of course, I hope they are not).
In any event, in addition to the changes alluded to above, I worked hard to revise the text in numerous other ways in order to clarify certain points, as needed, to update some interpretations, where appropriate, and to include new information, where useful. Rather than spell out all those changes, I especially call the readers' attention to the chapters "Child Welfare," where I inserted a good deal of additional material on recent developments in that field, and "War on the Welfare State," where I added quite a bit of material on matters of race, especially the publication of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's The Bell Curve (1994), and its implications for social welfare policy. Also, as in the past, I have revised and updated the bibliographies at the end of all of the chapters.
Before closing, let me again take the opportunity to thank The Free Press, especially Philip Rappaport and Caryn-Amy King, with whom I worked most closely, for bringing out a new edition of this work, for allowing me to revise the entire manuscript in any way I saw fit, and for continuing to reprint the prefaces to all the previous editions. The latter is a very costly and unusual gesture which I greatly appreciate -- and which, as I pointed out in the preface to the previous edition, will be of great benefit to the readers; I therefore again urge them to read all of the prefaces.
I also wish to thank all of the scholars of American social welfare history whose works I have used, in one way or another, in revising and updating this book. Many of them are cited in the text or in the bibliographies, some are not. In addition, I again wish to thank my wife, Joan, for all of her love and support, not only during the last six months or so while I worked on revising this manuscript but during forty years of a very happy marriage, and my children Stephen, Anne, and David, to whom all of the previous editions of this work were dedicated. I am sure they will not mind if I dedicate this edition to their children, my four wonderful grandchildren who have come into the world since the last edition of this work was published, Billy and Sarah Liccione and Andy and Aaron Trattner. May they bring as much happiness and joy to their parents as their mommies and daddies brought to their "grammy" and "papa" -- and may they grow up to be kind, caring, and compassionate adults.
Copyright © 1994, 1999 by Walter I. Trattner
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