Social Work and Social Policy
Compelling and broad in scope, Social Work and Social Policy is an indispensable text for students and a valuable resource for practitioners concerned with creating social policy and governmental action guided by justice for all. IRA C. COLBY, DSW, is Dean of the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston, in Houston, Texas. Dr. Colby has served on, chaired, or held elective positions in a number of national social work associations, including past president of the Council on Social Work Education, and serves on a number of journal editorial boards. CATHERINE N. DULMUS, PhD, LCSW, is Professor, Associate Dean for Research, and Director of the Buffalo Center for Social Research in the School of Social Work at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, and Research Director at Hillside Family of Agencies in Rochester, New York. KAREN M. SOWERS, PhD, is Dean and Beaman Professor in the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research interests include juvenile justice, sexuality, social work education, child welfare, evidence-based practice, and international social work practice.
Social Work and Social Policy
Reconceptualizing the Evolution of the American Welfare State
As you read this chapter, ask yourself if you think it is important to understand history, not just to know some dates or be familiar with certain key persons. Some might say that history repeats itself and, therefore, we should be knowledgeable of the past. Mark Twain, however, allegedly said, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
The American welfare state has become a pivotal feature of American civilization. Spending on human resources consumed 69 percent of the federal budget in 2010, not including spending by states and local government and not including tax expenditures such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2012). It includes thousands of pages of regulations that govern the implementation of its many programs and that protect the public's safety from environmental, housing, drug-related, and other hazards. It employs tens of thousands of persons.
Yet analyzing the welfare state's history poses daunting challenges for scholars. This article provides a survey of its development while posing questions for further research in its concluding section. It suggests that historians and social-policy theorists need to reconceptualize the evolution of the American welfare state by moving in new directions.
Some Daunting Challenges Facing Historians of the American Welfare State
Before it is even possible to analyze the evolution of the American welfare state, key conceptual issues must be addressed. We discuss six of these challenges as follows.
Expanding the Welfare State's Parameters
Some scholars have defined the welfare state in relatively narrow terms as consisting primarily of those programs that focus on traditional social work concerns, such as mental health, welfare, maternal health, and child welfare programs (Axinn & Levin, 1982; Leiby, 1978; Trattner, 1979). I call these "the traditional histories" in subsequent discussion, which I contrast with my own history of the American welfare state (Jansson, 1988, 2005).
This relatively narrow definition risks ignoring considerable portions of the welfare state if we define it as including a wide range of policies that are relevant to the social, psychological, and economic well-being of citizens. Not only do these policies span a wide range of substantive issues, but they also include tax policies that shape the distribution of wealth in the United States, budget policies that determine what policies receive priority, policies geared toward preventive as well as curative goals, policies at all levels of government, and policies that shape interactions between public and private sectors.
The welfare state's substantive programs include a wide range of programs that address social and economic problems and needs of citizens, such as (a) institutions that house persons with specific kinds of social problems or criminal offenses, including persons with mental problems, children who are orphaned or who are deemed to have been neglected or abused, and prisons; (b) means-tested safety-net programs for the poor (Food Stamps, Medicaid, Supplementary Security Income or SSI, Section 8 housing vouchers and subsidies); (c) universal social programs (Medicare, Social Security, and Unemployment Insurance); (d) regulations (food, drug, housing protections; civil rights laws for persons of color, women, mentally ill persons, persons with disabilities, the elderly, LGBT persons, and others); (e) protections for persons in specific organizations (such as work-safety conditions for workers, safety and medical care for persons in mental institutions, nursing homes, and convalescent homes, and safety and care for children in childcare and in their homes); (f) opportunit