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Abstract

Within the history of the American states, the attitude toward "welfare" had been fundamentally ambivalent. On the one hand there is a great thrust in this country toward charity, and toward helping the poor. Much is given each year to United Funds across the country (860 million in 1972-73), and the Christmas listing by the New York Times of the 100 "neediest cases" results in much spontaneous offering of aid. On the other hand, Americans are singularly suspicious of institutionalizing this impulse. These suspicions leave the United States behind other comparable countries in providing social welfare benefits. Indeed, so suspicious are we about helping the poor that, for a long time, we really knew very little about them. As late as 1958, Galbraith's volume THE AFFLUENT SOCIETY celebrated the most pervasive myth about America - that we were wealthy with cases of need in the minority (Galbraith, 1958). Figures collected by the Census one year later - in 1959 - revealed that 23.4 of the American families had incomes of less than $3,000. Seemigly, we just did not want to acknowledge the amount of poverty. Rainwater coumments that "Perhaps so long as economic exploitation of the poor was central to the working of the economy, no broad awareness was possible" (Rainwater, 1969:9). For whatever reason, we were unaware.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the absence of public awareness was matched by insufficient scholarly attention to problems of poverty. Social scientists have been very slow to provide detailed information on what has become apparent as the central fact about the American underclass - that it is created by, and its existence maintained by, the operation of what in other ways is the most successful economic system known to man (Rainwater,1969:9).

Whether or not one agrees with the second part of Rainwater's assertation, and Piven and Cloward (1971) certainly do, his initial point is surely correct. And what is true generally about poverty was true to an even greater extent about welfare. There is not available a general public analysis which shows where welfare fits in relationship to poverty in general or to potential clients in particular, even though techniques for this kind of analysis are available (Reiner, 1968). Perhaps least is known about the topic of major interest here - welfare rates and welfare grants, and their relationship to each other and general social structural variables, although some work has been done (Dawson and Robinson, 1965; Gordon, 1969; Collins, 1967; and Kasper, 1968).

This general lack of appropriate public and scholarly attention left the country quite unprepared for the rate and cost spiral which affected the AFDC program, especially during the 1960's. The basic response of the country was that there must be many "chiselers" somewhere, the trends were deplored singly and collectively, the citizenry reemphasized the importance of work, social workers were damned, and the program itself was faulted. Although the Nixon Administration used the impetus generated by this upheaval to propose a new welfare system, little information was generated on the whole problem. Indeed, most of the few pieces available were done during that period (Schorr, 1968).

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