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Sixties welfare debate to resurface in '08?

A vision in the 1960s and '70s for ending poverty that included a guaranteed minimum income is worth revisiting by today's presidential candidates, says historian Felicia Kornbluh, author of The Battle for Welfare Rights.

"The antipoverty ideas being debated by the 1968 presidential candidates were more wide-ranging than anything you hear from the 2008 candidates," Kornbluh notes. "Even in a campaign that is aggressively antipoverty, like John Edwards', there are some ideas that are completely off the table, but should not be--and were not 40 years ago.


"In the '60s, people actually suggested reducing the labor force and paying poor women to stay at home to care for their children. Some leaders saw welfare tied as much to well-being as to work," adds Kornbluh, who has worked on the staff of the former United States House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families.

In Welfare Rights, Kornbluh chronicles the efforts of the National Welfare Rights Organization to secure a guaranteed income for every citizen. Based in New York, NWRO membership mostly comprised black women on welfare. "When it is remembered, the welfare rights movement is usually treated as one of the great errors of postwar history," Kornbluh states. However, she contends, "the welfare rights movement changed the national conversation about public benefits and thus about the heart and soul of government."

While NWRO itself largely was outside of mainstream politics, its ideas were not, Kornbluh insists. "A long list of eminences, from conservative economist Milton Friedman to liberal Sen. George McGovern, pressed the government to guarantee incomes so that no family in affluent America would be abjectly poor."

The debate over welfare ultimately led to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Act of 1996 under Pres. Bill Clinton, which emphasized paying jobs over entitlements for single mothers.
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Title Annotation:Your Life
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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