Federal welfare policy has been a political and cultural preoccupation in the United States for nearly seven decades. Debates about who poor people are, how they got that way, and what the government should do about poverty were particularly bitter and misleading at the end of the twentieth century. These public discussions left most Americans with far more attitude than information about poverty, the poor, and poverty policy in the United States.
In response, Gwendolyn Mink and Rickie Solinger compiled the first documentary history of welfare in America, from its origins through the present. Welfare: A Documentary History of U.S. Policy and Politics provides historical context for understanding recent policy developments, as it traces public opinion, recipients’ experiences, and policy continuities and innovations over time. The documents collected range across more than 100 years, from government documents and proclamations of presidents throughout the 20th century, to accounts of activist and grass roots organizations, newspaper reports and editorials, political cartoons, posters and more.
They enable readers to go straight to the source to find out how public figures racialized welfare in the minds of white Americans, to explore the origins of the claim that poor women have babies in order to collect welfare, and to trace how that notion has been perpetuated and contested. The documents also illustrate how policymakers in different eras have invoked and politicized the idea of dependency, as well as how ideas about women's dependency have followed changing characterizations of poor women as workers and as mothers.
Welfare provides a picture of the government’s evolving ideas about poverty and provision, along side powerful examples of the voices too often eclipsed in the public square—welfare recipients and their advocates, speaking about mothering, poverty, and human rights.
“A stirringly dramatic narrative of welfare policy history. Through the documents they select, Mink and Solinger bring to life an immensely important human drama, and they do so in a way that paves a path to a higher awareness of the deeply ingrained biases of gender, race, and class that operate in welfare policy.”
-Social Service Review
“The debate over welfare suffers from lack of historical perspective. Now come Mink and Solinger to transform our understanding with a clearly articulated, carefully organized, and judiciously selected collection of key sources and illustrative documents that illuminates the past and present of aid to poor women and their children. Essential for classroom use, this book also belongs on the desks of policy makers and activists alike.”
-Eileen Boris,Hull Professor of Women’s Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara