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From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945-1965.

From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945-1965. By Jennifer Mittelstadt (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. xiii plus 267 pp. $49.95, cloth; $19.95, paper).

Jennifer Mittlelstadt, knowing that "small events create larger consequences" (p. 106), has written a very important contribution to U.S. social welfare history. From Welfare to Workfare focuses on the evolution of Aid to Dependent Children from its enactment in the original (1935) Social Security Act to its demise in the (1996) Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. She pays particular attention to crises dominant between the New Deal and the Great Society, a period in which details usually get little attention from social welfare historians. Rather than recount legislative battles at length, or highlight the research of academic superstars and public intellectuals, From Welfare to Workfare offers us an intimate portrait of decent officials struggling (typically working at the second tier in relative obscurity) with issues that haunt us today. In so doing, Mittelstadt adds to our understanding of the varieties of liberalism in policymaking circles after World War II. Her monograph is good policy history: it traces both ingenious strategies as well as missed opportunities to conjoin through Aid to Dependent Children issues surrounding gender, poverty, race, welfare, and employment.

The architects of Social Security had hoped to integrate Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), an income support program for needy mothers, into a non-categorical welfare program in the 1940s. Wartime exigencies, opposition from liberals and conservatives in Congress as well as the National Association of Manufacturers forced ADC policy advocates to scale back their plans. Instead, they adopted a casework model, providing social services to clients. By the mid-1950s, Wilbur Cohen, Elizabeth Wickenden, and their associates were proposing "rehabilitation" as women's best escape from dependency--a tack consistent with their Keynesian liberalism and therapeutic approach to personal ills. Ironically, they chose to play down the changing racial composition of their poor clientele, while incidents in Louisiana and Newburgh, NY, fanned opposition to welfare. And so it went. Adding "family" to AFDC's name in 1962 caused a new group of policymakers to shy away from the program's welfare aspects. AFDC's relevance to poverty's gender and racial components were not pursued even though JFK created the first President's Commission on the Status of Women. Thus by 1965 federal law mandated rehabilitative goals, but vulnerable women increasingly had the "responsibility" to work, a priority that thereafter would grow in importance.

There is much to admire in this well documented, well written case study. One might nitpick--Joseph Califano was LBJ's chief domestic policy advisor not secretary of H.E.W. (p. 150). And while Wilbur Cohen rightly plays a central role in this book, one needs to turn to Edward Berkowitz's Mr. Social Security (Kansas, 1995) to appreciate all Cohen did in these years to promote Social Security and health care in addition to his masterminding AFDC. That said, From Welfare to Workfare deserves a wide readership, especially for its success in showing how a "silo" mentality and bureaucratic structure have consequences all too predictable when academics, foundations, unions, businesses, policymakers, and lawmakers try to do good.

W. Andrew Achenbaum

University of Houston
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Author:Achenbaum, W. Andrew
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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