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Abstract

We argue that legislative attempts to establish bureaucratic programs to eradicate American poverty will invariably result in ironic inconsistencies that will doom such programs to only limited or partial success. As an illustration, we examine the ironic history of the AFDC program as it has been legislated to deal with American poverty. Three sociological accounts for the ironies of welfare programming are then drawn together. One account suggests that undue concern over the work ethic has overridden more direct concern for the deprecating living conditions of the Door. A second account suggests that poverty is so functionally beneficial to a number of vested interest groups in society that serious attempts to eradicate it are unlikely. The third explanation, which we ourselves develop, suggests that ironic inconsistencies arise in legislated welfare programs because the roots of poverty are inherent in the very institutions of our society that provide the supportive groundwork upon which legislative activity as a conservative political process operates. Without social restructing of these institutions on a revolutionary scale, therefore, only ironically ineffective governmental programs that do not seriously threaten the institutional foundations of American poverty (and, therefore, do not threaten American legislative politics) are likely to be enacted. This third explanation rests upon a 'social structural - social psychological' model of the roots of American poverty. We develop this model in detail by identifying the key structural features in American society that produce 1poverty traps" into which individuals with selected social psychological characteristics are ensnared.

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