Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Green reviews Mittelstadt, From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform

Jennifer Mittelstadt, From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945–1965 (University of North Carolina Press, 2005) is reviewed by Michael S. Green, Community College of Southern Nevada, in the Law and History Review. Green begins:
With the passage of the 1996 reform act, politicians proclaimed a revolution in "welfare as we know it." Now, they said, recipients would have to get off of welfare and join the work force. But as Jennifer Mittelstadt's engrossing study shows, the concept of "workfare" is about as old as the standard criticisms of welfare that it was designed to end. From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945–1965 delivers on what its title promises. Mittlestadt, who teaches history and women's studies at Penn State, demonstrates that reformers sought to change both welfare policy and how Americans viewed it. She also shows that what liberal reformers intended and what resulted proved far different, and why.

Given the richness of the material, to attempt to summarize everything between the covers would be folly; to discuss only some of it means excluding other information. But the central figure in these pages, Wilbur Cohen, worked in the Social Security Administration in its early days, became active in the American Public Welfare Association (APWA), led several important studies of poverty in the 1950s, then had the opportunity to convert their findings into reality in the 1960s as a key administrator in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

With Cohen alternately studying, making, and proposing policy, liberal reformers sought to reshape welfare. In the 1940s, APWA researchers and lobbyists began moving away from support for "comprehensive social welfare" and toward a focus on particular public assistance or social services programs, especially Aid to Dependent Children. Aiding dependent children might have seemed uncontroversial. But as Mittlestadt writes, "Those clients were poor women without husbands, and it was their behavior—or the perception of their behavior—around which the new ethos of welfare-as-services would be defined" (39). And that clientele was evolving from white widows to include women who often were divorced and/or of color.

For the rest of the story, and the review, click here.

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