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Work & Happiness – History of U.S. Welfare

Work & Happiness – History of U.S. Welfare


The very beginning of the welfare system was the passage of the Aid to Dependent Mothers early in the New Deal. And you know what? It was perfectly reasonable. What did they have in mind? Francis Perkins was secretary of labor at that time and she had in mind widows – widows with small children. And they needed help! What is a more natural object of our affection? When the stock market crashed in 1929, the world entered the Great Depression. After his election in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted federal reforms to help the poor, including cash assistance for single mothers. With 20 percent unemployment in America, massive public works projects strengthened families by providing employment in a difficult time. “I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people!” Roads, public parks, dams and bridges were built, tying work directly to assistance. But even President Roosevelt realized that there was a limit to what the government could do. President Roosevelt certainly said often that welfare was not intended to be for a lifetime and not intended to replace work. And to the extent that we’ve gotten away from that sentiment in some of our programs, that’s unfortunate. “The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. We must preserve not only the bodies of the unemployed from destitution but also their self-respect, their self-reliance and courage and determination.” It all started out so innocently. And if I’d been alive then, I would have been in favor of it then. But it ratcheted up very slowly. Even by the end of the 1950s, the welfare rolls were small. The amounts of money were small. Welfare really was not at that time an attractive way to try to live. NORBERG: Roosevelt remained true to his convictions, and phased out emergency public projects as the economy improved. From the 1940s to the 1960s, poverty fell dramatically in the United States.

  1. How do you get on that welfares? We got some Doctor Bills that we're gonna have to get took care of, and this might be just waht we need.

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