Posted in Uncategorized, tagged almshouses, poverty, welfare on October 2, 2012 |
As the presidential campaigns turns into the home stretch, we realize that we have not heard much about the poor and policy toward the poor. The problems of the middle class – including their fear of joining the poor – is everyone’s focus; that’s where the votes are. But arguments about policies toward the poor will return; the controversy is an American perennial.
Boston Almshouse 1825 (source)
Central to the contentiousness is figuring out what the key principle of American poverty policy ought to be: Is it Christian charity, which implies simply feeding the hungry and clothing the naked? Or, is it moral rehabilitation, which implies teaching the poor “to fish” for themselves and letting those who won’t learn sink? Or is it economic efficiency, which implies keeping the poor alive but at minimum cost to the taxpayer?
Two recent papers in The Journal of the Early Republic illuminate these concerns in an era when assistance to the poor was much more constricted, more focused on the very worst off, more punitive, and concentrated on placing the poor in their own, collective home: the almshouse.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged charity, government, poverty, welfare on October 12, 2010 |
“Should there be a pauper among you . . . you shall not harden your heart and clench your hand against your brother the pauper. But you shall surely open your hand to him . . . .” (Deut. 15:7-8; Alter trans.). A recurrent question about modern America is to what extent we have adhered to this and similar admonitions to care for “the least of these.”
The question is prompted by a new book from Katherine Newman and Elisabeth Jacobs, Who Cares?: Public Ambivalence and Government Activism from the New Deal to the Second Gilded Age. Newman and Jacobs present evidence that now widely-hailed parts of the safety net woven during the New Deal (particularly poor relief, job creation, and old age support) and then during the Great Society (particularly Medicare and poverty programs) at the time faced considerable public ambivalence and even resistance. Roosevelt and Johnson just drove ahead anyway and later Americans were thankful that they did. One implication is that today’s backlash against the Obama health initiative is nothing new.
Another implication is that Americans’ caring for the “least” among them was not much more enthusiastic 50 or 80 years ago than it is now. Had Newman and Jacobs looked back farther back in time, they would have only reinforced their argument. It has always been hard for Americans to meet those religious injunctions.
Read Full Post »