There are many theories which attempt to explain why the United States has become a welfare state. Four main approaches can be distinguished which focus on 1) the maintenance of social order; 2) welfare as empowerment; 3) welfare as an expression of egalitarianism; and 4) welfare as contributing to economic growth.

Similarly, there are many predictions about the likely future of the welfare state. They can be related to the four approaches which analyze the welfare state's historical origins and current function. The aim of this article is to clarify the debate about the future by relating the different predictions to these alternative approaches.