In his book, Shaping Race Policy: The United State...
US Welfare State According to Lieberman
In his book, Shaping Race Policy: The United States in
Comparative Perspective, Robert Lieberman examines the rise of Social
Security and Aid to Dependent Children in the US (comparing it to the same establishments
in the United Kingdom and France) and how it evolved over time, particularly
its implications on race relations in the country. By focusing on welfare and
employment, two key policy areas, Lieberman interrogates America on the inconsistent
incorporation of other races (particularly African Americans) into the full
benefits of citizenship. As far as Lieberman (7) is concerned, the welfare
system in the US, far from the mainstream assumptions, is not an effort to
address the racial gaps in the US but the evidence of it. To him, Aid to Families
with Dependent Children (AFDC), the main scheme through which African Americans
were included in the country’s welfare state was not the best answer or even
the easiest to deal with- he says Social Security would have been the easiest
to expand- but was picked because it helped America’s racist establishment. In
examining this question, Lieberman starts by examining how the welfare started
and evolved to what it has come to be today.
Liebeman (5), from the very start, the welfare system was discriminatory,
driven by reasons other than a true will to gap the racist bridge between white
(majority) America and the minority (i.e. the black community) America. For
example, before 1945, widows of deceased working men, who were at first
recipients of public assistance, were removed from the public assistance rolls
in 1939 with the Social Security amendment, and by it America revealed its true
intent as far as the welfare of African Americans go. Essentially, this shifted
the focus of public assistance from those in need to those who qualified based
on certain rules in regards to how children were brought up, the nature of
one’s work, and one’s sex. This behavioral justification was not only
discriminatory, but was politically motivated as well, used by political
leaders to garner loyalty from welfare recipients (Lieberman 119).
discriminatory situation, among other factors (including market forces- helped further
by government policies), had more adverse impact on African Americans, this
evident in the fact that more African Americans were getting into the welfare
system. Towards the end of the 1940s, for instance, a large percentage of the welfare
recipients in the US were African Americans. As already pointed out, Lieberman (63)
holds that this increased number of African Americans on welfare does not
reflect the government’s effort to better the lives of the African Americans.
If that were the case, then the African Americans would not have had reason to seek
out welfare in the first place. The 1940s, for example, saw more African
Americans move to the Northern urban areas (what came to be known as the Great
Migration), and finding themselves in need of welfare, thereby increasing the
number of African Americans on the Aid to Dependent Children (ADC) rolls
that welfare qualification and distribution had been politicized, ADC rolls
were hardly used by state governments to address racial issues (Lieberman 83).
In the 1960’s, however, poverty got national political attention with the
agenda being to expand the welfare state. Race and welfare politics came to its
peak during the Civil Rights movement, seeing explosive growth of the welfare
state during this time. The justification for the growth of the welfare state
was now civil-rights based (Pierson 72). This growth was marked by increase in
the number of families receiving benefits, more and more ADC recipients
residing in the Northern cities, and the number of African Americans receiving
welfare increased far more than other groups (Pierson 73).
is part of what fanned the civil rights movement that drew attention to the
economic status of the African Americans and called for the end of racism and
discrimination, as well as increased opportunities for African Americans in the
economic and political realms of the country.
(101) then looks at what would have been the most effective welfare system if
the US government had had real intentions to uplift the minority groups from
their comparatively (relative to the white Americans) worse status. Lieberman (101)
the mainstream Social Security (including its accompanying insurance programs)
and the more under-the-surface Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), later amended
to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), and what implications they
may have had on the target groups.
Social Security, alongside its accompanying social insurance programs, saw the
white population successfully integrated into America’s national welfare state.
The Social Security contained financial incentives, such as welfare-to-work. Welfare-to-work
was meant to encourage welfare recipients to find employment, which is observed
to be the best alternative to welfare (Lieberman 113). Welfare-to-work programs
concentrate on the recipient’s financial incentive to find employment, their
training and education, and the job requirements of prospective work. Insistent
on employment is another means through which welfare programs discourage
recipients from welfare longer than is necessary. Requiring parents to work,
however, may leave children, who are the most numerous, quite vulnerable. This
is especially true of children belonging to single mothers who are also required
to work. The impact of welfare-to-work requirements on children’s access to
medical care, shelter and food, as well as the time spent with parents may
indeed be negative. Additionally, children may be exposed to harmful child-care
all in an effort to get their parents back to work. Financial incentives, on
their part, encouraged recipients to go to work by letting them retain more of
the welfare check once they go to work ((Tannahill 216).
such financial incentives do not address the issue of size and cost of welfare
on the government. This is because this initiative raises the income cutoff
point, thereby increasing the number of people that are eligible for welfare, and
in-turn increasing, rather than reducing, the welfare cost (Pierson 113).
Perhaps the most favorable initiative in the welfare-to-work qualification is
that of provision of education and job training to help recipients find
employment. While this approach may not be as cost effective as requiring
parents to find employment, it does produce the desired results. It moves recipients
to self-sufficiency while ensuring that children are not negatively affected
ADC (i.e. AFDC), on the other hand, did not offer the same advantages. It
received lesser attention, largely ignored by the government and other key
institutions. ADC was more of a public assistance scheme. In other words, it
provided short-term solutions, such as basic food items. Indeed, these
assistances were only temporary, which means that, ultimately, ADC did not
include the African Americans in the national welfare state. Instead, it
created a sense of making a difference, but in truth, only kept the recipients
in the very same economic and social status they were in. Smith (145), for
instance, notes that majority of the US public are of the opinion that this
state of welfare does not help lift families out of poverty, rather enables and
facilitates the very poverty it was designed to alleviate.
the ADC later received attention and was changed to AFDC, Lieberman (121) argues
that such a change was unnecessary and that the government should have focused
more on the Social Security. If anything, the apparent separation of the AFDC
from the general Social Security framework was discriminatory in the first
place. In other words, Lieberman (122) argues, it would have been easier to
expand Social Security rather than establishing and implementing AFDC
separately. This has to do with the expanded scope of the two. The very scope
of Social Security and, therefore, the weight of implementing it means the attention paid to AFDC-
which the government considered to be of less importance if anything- was
largely bound to be minimal. Indeed, simple common sense would dictate that
focusing on one system- however big- is easier to handle than focusing on two
or more- even if smaller- systems.
said, it is worth noting that the US government has increasingly focused on
changing this state of affairs. This is evident in the increased shift from
AFDC to Social Security. The implication is that America is moving towards a
completely unified Welfare State in which the whites and blacks are governed by
the same frameworks. This is good news, because it means the government aims to
level the field for everyone regardless of race. Now whether that can be realized
remains to be seen. Still, despite a few limitations, the US government has
done its share of good towards addressing the plight of African Americans. It
is not enough just yet, but it implies intent; that the government is
increasingly taking a more central role in the welfare state (Alcock, et al.
202), and that is a good promise.