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History of USA: War on Welfare

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    The United States of America… the land of the free and the home of the tax-stricken. The country that is known as “the last superpower in the world” that developed the deadliest weapon on earth, sent the first person to the moon, and was the birthplace of the most powerful man in the world, Bill Gates, has forty million people (which include ten million children) without basic healthcare coverage. (Packet, pg.58)

    Although this “supernation” boasts of the “American dream,” where the poor become rich overnight, the typical American citizen does not have a “super” lifestyle. Based on the average income of Americans, “one in every five U.S. nonelderly households are poor, one in four young households are poor, and over half of all households headed be a lone parent are poor.” (Packet, pg.1) Though the United States has tried to mimic the welfare systems of that of Europe, the bureaucratic “red tape” and the conflicts that reside between the legislature and executive branches of the government have hindered the progress towards an effective welfare reform policy.

    In order to understand the progressions towards refining the wounded welfare system of the United States, one must first know what welfare means. The welfare state is “a state which takes the prime role in ensuring the provision of a minimum standard of living for citizens.” (Professor VonDoepp) The two goals of the welfare state is that of

    • security against socio-economic deprivation (especially with the current Capitalistic system which families base their entire lifestyle on the outcome of the economy)
    • equality against the still present racial tension and economical barriers that reside in society.

    Many critics of welfare programs across the world have argued whether the U.S. is really a welfare state because of the limited role played by the government to maintain a minimum standard of living. In Europe’s case, just the opposite can be said for their welfare programs. European states such as Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom “provide higher minimum standards of income support than are available in the U.S.” (Packet, pg.1)

    Only seven percent of households in Western Europe have incomes that are below the national median, compared to the United States where the poverty percentile is double. The only positive aspect that the U.S. has to show for their efforts in the current welfare system is the provision of free public education, which is higher than in Europe. (Packet, pg.16)

    In the U.S. the welfare system before the 1996 bipartisan revision, had far more gaping holes in the “social safety net” than that of the European states. Many skeptics believe that the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill will cause even more harm to the citizens of the U.S. Peter Edelmaun, the former assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned after having worked over 30 years after he read the reformation that was to take place from the Welfare Reform Bill.

    “The bill will move 20 million people, including 1.1 million children, into poverty, and forcing 11 million families (10 percent of all American family households) under the poverty line which was last estimated at $13,793 for a family of three. (Atlantic Monthly & Packet, pg. 46) While many European states including Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands provide healthcare

    • centers, suitable housing, health/recreational spas, and regulate wage differentials and offering generous social assistance to the jobless, the United States recently passed a bill
    • to narrow the eligibility for disabled children which will result in the removal of 100,000 to 200,000 of the children who currently receive SSI. Senator Edward Kennedy, who voted against the bill, described it best by saying it was “legislative child abuse.” (Atlantic Monthly)

    Even though the world sees that the United States needs to broaden their “safety net” for its citizens, political strife continues to shorten welfare’s reach to those who are in need. The most serious cut to arise from the political blood bath to create the Welfare Reform Bill is the limiting of food stamps to three months out of every three years for unemployed adults under the age of fifty who do not care for any siblings. (Atlantic Monthly)

    Instead of cutting down the cow (the food provided by the government), why not cut the cash cow that many of our legislative and executive officials enjoy having on a regular basis? The news gets better for welfare recipients. There is now a five year cap on welfare aid to all recipients, a cap of $16.4 billion annually for funding, with no new funding for jobs and work training, and the states have been given absolute power of decree to do as they wish with their appointed sums of welfare revenue.

    Was it not the goal of the welfare system to prevent an uprising in case of economic turmoil and instill peace-of-mind that there would be preventive measures in place in the instance of an unforeseen tragedy? In the case of the new reform bill passed by Congress and the President, welfare will most likely cause upheaval instead of preventing it. If this were so, then the United States must ask whether malnutrition, abuse against children, and deeper poverty among its citizens is in the best interest for the sake of “reform.”

    In 1871, Otto von Bismark created the first social welfare insurance known to the world to help prevent cultural uprisings in Germany. One reason for our present-day welfare systems that span around the world is in part to the socialist labor movement, which grew only as a reaction to aristocratic power. (Packet, pg.17)

    Industrialization was at the threshold of a new century, and socialistic ideals began to manifest themselves into the values of Europe’s citizens. The threat of a capitalistic resistance towards socialization bringing disastrous economical effects and interest in regulation of industry instead of ownership, led to the progression of the current welfare state system. (Packet, pg. 12)

    One speculation as to why welfare programs have done well in European states, unlike that of the U.S., is because of the “royal absolutism.” European bureaucracies had long been seen as a legitimate power in governmental rule, so no one opposed the reformation to a welfare system when endorsed by the aristocrats. “The general principles of the welfare state are as universally accepted and politically invulnerable in Europe as social security is to the elderly.” (Packet, pg.17)

    Besides the uniquely different histories that brought Europe and the United States to develop social-economic welfare programs, the relative size in population per state is a determining factor stated by one hypothesis. The higher neglect of the American welfare system could be traced to the spatial obstacles readily visible in the U.S. Many political and social theorists refute this theory on the basis, and not to be taken out of context, that “size doesn’t matter.” In fact, many theorists believe that because the U.S. is so tightly- knitted in respect to people per square mile (an average of 55 people per square mile), they should be able to procure a feasible way of handling the dilemma concerning welfare reform. (Packet, pg.2)

    The closer you are to a community, the more likelihood of sharing similar interests and goals. Another explanation for America’s welfare woes is that of appeasement. America has been respectively given the name “melting pot” for the diverse population it holds within its borders. European states do not have to contend to the desires of a largely diverse population as greatly because most citizens of Europe have heavy ties to their homeland and do not often part from their birthplace. In order to appease the majority of the population in America, compromises must be reached.

    Unfortunatley, compromise can (and often does) lead to the exclusion of necessary elements to create a sound reform or economical benefit to the country’s welfare. The crucial component that could greatly benefit the United States welfare program is what Europe learned long ago: cooperation, consideration, and the belief that no one must be denied the right for the basic needs to sustain life as we know it.


    1. Peter Edelmaun, “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Done,” Atlantic Monthly, March 1996.
    2. Robert Heilbroner, “Benign Neglect in the United States,” in Transaction, October 1970, Vol.7 #12. (Packet)
    3. John Kautsky, “Contexts of Conservatism, Liberalism, and Socialism,” in Society, March April 1996, Vol. 33#3. (Packet)
    4. Katherine McFate, “First World Poverty,” in Focus, November 1991, Vol. 19#11. (Packet)
    5. “Mr. Blair Goes to Washington,” in The Economist Volume 346, Feb. 7, 1998 pp. 15-16. (Packet)

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